Earthbound (No Angel Series: Book Two) (Paperback)

by Theresa Sneed

Earthbound
Earthbound

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Product Description

Heaven used to be such a perfect place . . .

As the time draws near for the first spirits to leave their home in heaven, a group of rebellious dissenters begins to appear at every blue-planet planning meeting, demanding that all mortals are ruled by compulsory choice, instead of having the freedom to choose for themselves.

Daniel is a courageous Freedom Fighter who vehemently opposes the No Choice movement. Sophie is impressed by his strong desire to do what’s right . . . and by his intense blue eyes. But she also has a strange attraction to the handsome and ostentatious Coe, a leader of the No Choice movement, who has his sights on her and will stop at nothing to claim her as his own.

About the Author

Growing up in the woodlands of Maine and spending most of her time climbing trees and looking for snakes under rocks, author Theresa Sneed has a wealth of childhood experiences and a lively imagination from which she creates her magical stories. As a mother of six, a grandmother of four, and an elementary school teacher, she enjoys weaving stories of fantasy and adventure that bring about moments of wonder and reflection.


Theresa graduated cum laude with a BA in education and has written award-winning poetry and short stories. She is a former executive president of American Night Writers Association (ANWA), a national LDS women’s writers group, and she is currently vice president of Salt River Scribes, a local chapter of ANWA. She enjoys reading and writing fantasy, romance, and suspense.


No Angel is Theresa’s first published novel. To learn more about her and get a sneak peek at the prequel and sequel to No Angel, visit her author blog at http://theresasmallsneed.blogspot.com. Theresa loves hearing from her readers and may be contacted at noangel1@cox.net.

Chapter One

Freedom Fighter

Sophie dangled her leg over the side of the hammock and pressed her head back against the pillow. A copy of Mystery on the Blue Planet lay open beside her, and she mused on its captivating and profound words. It was her favorite of all the novels about the blue planet—and she hoped at least half of it would turn out to be true. Imagine a new world—different from heaven, but still kind of the same, she thought.

She glanced at the rich foliage on either side of the hammock, then ran her fingers down the edge of its finely threaded strands of crystal, woven soft as air and clear as the sky above. A blue light flashed on the event indicator strapped to her upper arm, and she glanced down at it as a message appeared.

ATTN all Freedom Fighters: Your presence is requested outside the Blue Planet Planning Meeting, STAT.

Sophie threw her other leg over the side of the hammock and stood. She closed the book, hurried indoors, and grabbed her purse, then unsnapped it and peered inside. Ah, there it is. She touched the shimmery material of her guard screen, folded neatly inside a pocket. Hopefully I won’t need this, she thought as she snapped her purse shut. She slung it over her shoulder and then transwilled to the front lawn outside the planning meeting.

Many of the Freedom Fighters were already there and had begun to form a line of defense against the rowdy group of No Choicers that gathered across the walkway on the outskirts of the building. Why anyone had the audacity to fight against God was way beyond Sophie’s comprehension. She backed up the hill, keeping her eyes on the advancing dissenters.

BOOM! BOOM! Sporadic flashes lit the sky, and as she turned her head in their direction, she caught a glimpse of him. She had occasionally seen him from afar, either speaking privately to one of the heads of HR—Heaven Resources—or engaged in a lively discussion with one of his many friends.

A whistle of tiny bombs flew over the crowd, and his deep blue eyes searched for the assailant. Sophie was taken aback with the stern expression and displeasure etched in his face. Who is he?

The throng of angry spirits pressed near, their furious eyes daring her to move, but she stood her ground. What could they possibly do? They were just a group of rebels who probably expected to sway her by their mere presence. That was not going to happen.

BOOM! The sky crackled with thin currents, aftershocks of the small energy emissions—energy emissions meant to intimidate. But what were the No Choicers thinking? Sophie had made greater devices years ago as a young trainee learning the delicate art of stellar division, the removal of lesser-functioning matter. Nonetheless, the emissions stung if they came in contact with your spirit body, particularly your face. And if you were unfortunate enough to get caught in a cluster of the gnat-like energy emissions without a guard screen, they’d put you out for a while.

Sophie removed her guard screen from her purse and slipped the translucent film over her head. It hung loose about her slender shoulders. She backed up with the others, forming a protective barrier between the meeting and the rebels. The Freedom Fighters would not allow the dissenters to move forward, no matter what. They would never let them pass.

“Move out of the way, Sophie!” a familiar voice bellowed. A lanky boy sauntered her way.

Her breath caught in her throat. Jonas? He was part of her Progression—spiritually created in the first one thousand years—and she loved him like the brother he was.

“How are you, Sophie?” He stuffed a riffle of miniature energy emissions into a pocket and extended his hand.

She grabbed his hand and pointed toward his pocket. “What do you think you’re doing?”

He pulled away from her grasp. “What I should have done eons ago.”

She grimaced and yanked the screen off her head, knowing he would never hurt her. “You are on the wrong side, Jonas!” He shifted his weight. “How can you even think of following him?”

“He, uh . . . well.” Jonas licked his lips. “I like his ideas.”

“What!” Her friend had to be kidding. He liked ideas that would keep them from moving forward?

“Listen, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this mortality free-to-choose thing,” Jonas said.

Sophie glared at him. “I doubt that.”

“Aren’t you the least bit nervous about every outcome depending on your own choices? Why not eliminate freedom of choice, and enforce laws” —he patted the mini energy emissions— “that would make everyone choose the right? It just makes sense to me. It’s a fail-proof plan!”

She couldn’t believe he’d said that. A fail-proof plan? It was a plan that could only fail. How could anyone, especially Jonas, believe otherwise?

“Everyone wins, Soph. No chance of failure!”

“So, everyone wins—and then what?”

He shrugged. “Well, we live happily ever after.”

“As mindless clones?”

Jonas looked offended and took a step back. “Hardly. We have some of the greatest minds.”

She shook her head, but there was no doubt about that. Jonas was one of those great minds. They had been in many of the same classes together, and he’d excelled in every one, especially the sciences. Sophie remembered his intriguing questions and rather interesting creations, even though they were of the lesser matter that preceded true creations. She said in a low voice, “It’s not too late, Jonas—you can rejoin us!”

“Tsk! No thanks. Go to the blue planet and lose what, eighty percent of my capabilities? How do you think you’ll fare on a strange planet without even half of your talents, Sophie?”

“I’ll do just fine.” At least she hoped she would. She had wondered how she would actually accomplish anything down there. They wouldn’t be able to do even the simplest of normal functions, like interstellar travel. How would she maintain her interplanetary friendship with her best friend Kara without interstellar travel? Oh, well, at least mortality would be brief.

The small crowd of dissenters came no further and appeared to be losing interest until the wide doors behind Sophie opened and a bustle of people began exiting the large building. She glanced over her shoulders as Saunders, the well-respected head of Heaven Resources, stepped out onto the curb and waved at a woman who approached him. Saunders ran the day-to-day operations in heaven, under the direction of God. The recent rift among former friends and colleagues had Saunders working nonstop to try to find solutions to the upsetting division that had sprung up between them.

The time so often spoken of was almost upon them—the time for the first of them to leave heaven for a short experience on the blue planet. There was great excitement at first, and then bitter dispute over how mortals should be tested. Most said, “Give us our choice!” while others cried, “No, choice is too risky!” Now, a small group of dissenters showed up at almost every planning meeting.

No one had asked Sophie to join the Freedom Fighters and stand up against the dissenters, but it just seemed like the right thing to do.

As Saunders kissed the woman lightly on her lips, Sophie smiled and wondered if she could ever be so lucky. That’s when she saw him again—Mr. Piercing Blue Eyes. It happened so fast, she had no time to react. He grabbed her and threw her to the ground, covering her with his strong body. Even as she fell, she looked into his eyes, still filled with anger but now mingled with concern. He cradled her head as they hit the hard ground, and then he rolled off her and jumped back up.

Why had he done that? The answer came quickly as Sophie saw the tiny energy emissions explode against his shoulders. She scooted back and fumbled with her guard screen as Jonas pulled more energy emissions out of his pocket and tossed them into the air. She gasped, and her body shook all over. If those energy emissions had hit my face! She pushed the unpleasant thought aside and scurried to her feet, but the dissenters had launched their final attack for the day and had scattered.

Sophie’s rescuer pulled his screen off his head, and the natural light of heaven cast highlights in his wavy brown hair. She should thank him or something, but she didn’t even know his name, and something squirrelly wrestled in her stomach. She shook her head as she thought, For whatever reason! He’s just a spirit—with incredibly blue eyes. She bit her lip and took a step forward. She had no idea of what to say. But it was just as well, because as she reached up to tap him on the shoulder, a young woman with short brown hair threw her arms around his neck.

“You were fantastic, Daniel! Saunders is so pleased!” She gestured to Saunders, who motioned for them to meet him on the sidewalk.

Sophie watched as the girl pulled Daniel across the grass toward Saunders. It certainly didn’t look like Daniel was resisting her playful tug. Sophie wondered if they were “chosen” like a few of the couples in heaven—those who had promised themselves to each other. She smirked as she wiped loose dirt from her pants. Daniel, huh?

A tiny light flashed on the event indicator strapped to her arm, warning her she would soon be late for the first session of the class she was taking, called What’s the Matter. If she didn’t hurry along. She tapped on the indicator twice and pulled up a mini hologram of the instructor taking role at the class she was not at. She glanced one last time at Daniel then back down at her indicator. There was only one more student’s name left before hers. She transwilled at once to her seat.

“Sophia?” The instructor looked up from his notebook, swirling the mini screen to her image finder.

“I’m here, Mr. Sickle.”

“Yes, I can see that.” He checked her name off the roll. “Protecting HR from ruffians again?”

A few students snickered.

“Someone has to, sir.” Sophie didn’t like the way he looked at her.

“From whom, pray tell? Which of God’s innumerable creations do you consider bad enough to be a threat?” the teacher asked.

“The ones who toss mini energy emissions at innocent attenders.” A hush fell over the class.

“Those spirits who are planning our life on the blue planet?” Mr. Sickle seethed between clenched teeth. He had not hidden his feelings about the planning meetings, or his lack of desire to be an attender himself.

The Father’s plan had been submitted at the first meeting, and although most spirits had readily embraced it, it amazed Sophie that not everyone saw its sublime beauty and perfection. His plan was simple. Mankind would be free to choose right or wrong and thus prove themselves through their choices. It hadn’t taken long for a rebellious spirit to step forward with a revision of the plan that would not allow mankind to be free to choose, but would constrain them to choose right over wrong. They would never be permitted to make a mistake.

Mr. Sickle returned to the roll call. “Jonas?”

“Right here, sir.” Jonas leaned back in his seat and stretched out his long legs.

Sophie glanced over her shoulder and caught his wry smile. She looked back up at Mr. Sickle and saw a similar expression on his face. She bit on her thumbnail but remained calm. Was Mr. Sickle one of the dissenters, too? Their numbers did seem to be increasing. Her eyes panned over the class. It was small compared to the last class she’d taken.

She estimated there were about forty students in attendance and enough seats for five or six more.

“Jonathan Stewart?” The instructor tapped his finger on his notebook and didn’t look up, as if he expected not to see him there. “Not here? This is the third time he’s skipped this series of classes.” Mr. Sickle grumbled something under his breath and then closed the attendance notebook and sat it on the desk behind him.

“Bring your screens up, please,” Mr. Sickle said, gesturing to the small lapboard attached to the side of each seat. Each student sat back as the lapboard swung up and wrapped around his or her waist, the monitor stretching out and up in front of the student, creating a privacy barrier on three sides. The screens remained translucent, allowing the students to see through them to the instructor.

“This class will focus on the blue planet’s physiology—its material makeup—which is quite a bit different from you and me . . . much thicker. And denser.” Some of the students made faces and squirmed in their seats. The instructor went on, “It will not be very different from the planet we now live on, you see, except that the blue planet will be created from corruptible material—temporary in its mortal existence, not yet made perfect.”

Sophie squinted. She couldn’t fathom a lesser existence than heaven—so much like heaven, yet so different. She knew the blue planet’s purpose was to afford them the new change that was fast approaching, and that soon they would go to the planet and take on a physical body, kind of like their heavenly parents, and kind of not. It was hard to imagine and a little confusing. She hoped one of the sessions in this required series of classes would explain it.

Mr. Sickle droned on. “. . . And so, encased in this advanced prototype, the blue planet will pass through a temporary phase before it is cleansed, and then it will undergo a radical development and take on its final paradisiacal existence.” He gestured to their screens and pushed a button on a tiny remote. The screens came to life, each one displaying a miniature hologram of the blue planet. It was breathtaking. “The blue planet presently exists in this form.” The beautiful orb spun on its axis. “When all is ready, Father will give greater density and substance to the planet, and it will appear something like this.”

The image in front of each student rippled as waves of current streamed through it. A few students clapped and some whistled as the blue planet became solid, too dense to see through. Sophie reached in to examine the planet closer and felt its rough exterior pass through her hands. It sent a chill through her, and she pulled her hand back.

Mr. Sickle chuckled. “Yes, Sophie, the blue planet will have a definite feel to it, unlike anything you’ve ever felt before.”

Yes, that was true. Sophie couldn’t pass her hand through anything in heaven. Although heaven was not in spirit form like her, it was nothing like what she’d just felt when she passed her hand through the hologram of the blue planet, either.

“I heard something about us getting denser skin when we go there,” said a boy in the front row. He pinched at his skin. “How is that possible—and is it necessary?”

Mr. Sickle nodded. “A good question, Isaac, and one not so easily answered.” He cleared his throat. “In your physical body, you will not be able to pass your hand through the blue planet like you just saw Sophia do. However, as spirits—and some of you will be on the blue planet in spirit form from time to time—as spirits you will be able to pass through this type of matter.”

Several of the students began poking their fingers into the orbs in front of them and pulling them back out as quickly as Sophie had.

“Bah! Nonsense! We don’t have to go.” Jonas’s face drew up in a smug expression. “We can stay right here if we want to.”

Mr. Sickle looked at him sharply. “With the Father’s plan, staying in heaven is not an option, Jonas, and anyhow you’d be a fool not to go.”

“What?” Jonas looked shocked.

Sophie peered around her hologram at them. Maybe Mr. Sickle wasn’t a dissenter after all.

The instructor gestured to the class and then to himself. “It will be the same for you and me as it is for the blue planet. We will get an extra layer of density and substance to our bodies, and with that new outer shell we will understand greater levels of experience.”

Sophie leaned forward.

“That is why I cannot fully support freedom of choice,” Mr. Sickle said softly, looking sad, not angry. “For many, these heightened sensitivities will be too hard to control, and they will fail the blue planet’s test.”

Sophie slapped her hands on the lapboard, and her hologram vaporized as the board slipped back down to the side of her seat. “How can you say that, Mr. Sickle?” She felt her face get hot. “How can you say the heightened sensitivities will be too hard for them to control?”

“Because,” he said stiffly, “they will be.” He snapped his fingers, gesturing for all the lapboards to be returned to their places. “That is why I believe strict laws need to be imposed on all who go to the blue planet, to guide us safely through. If God allows us to make our own choices, think of the chaos that will cause! It would be much easier and safer if everyone were made to choose right things.”

“Forced, you mean?” Sophie said.

Mr. Sickle closed his carrying case with a click. “If that’s what it takes.”

“No failures, Sophia,” Jonas said, coming up behind her.

Mr. Sickle turned to Jonas. “I’m surprised a bright student like you didn’t catch on to the importance of getting one of those new outer bodies. It will be essential in our development, Jonas, because of what comes after it—a renewed, perfected body able to withstand all the interplanetary elements.”

Sophie grimaced. “I don’t think God intends for us to pick up a new body like we are picking out new clothing. I think he wants us to stretch into it, to learn and grow from making choices only that new body could offer us.”

Mr. Sickle frowned. “Maybe so, Sophia, but are you willing to lose so many of us just so you can learn and grow?”

That stopped her in her tracks. Of course she didn’t want to experience growth at the expense and loss of others, but if they wanted to be like their Creator, wouldn’t they have to experience the bad to understand the good, or at least some of it?

The rest of the class time was spent in analyzing matter specimens. Mr. Sickle opened the roof to the cosmos and drew in a cluster of matter patches, some in rich, dark colors, others white as the sun, but all teaming with macroscopic life. Sophie liked how the matter felt in her hands—like a thousand prickly microbursts of pure energy. They were strictly forbidden to experiment with this type of matter—the same matter that would be used to create the physical aspects of the blue planet, and their own outer bodies—and were only allowed to handle it under the direction of a certified instructor, like Mr. Sickle.

He opened the roof again. “Release them back.” The matter specimens zipped around the large room like mini meteors trailing sparkling tails of brilliant hues, then raced up through the open roof. Sophie noticed Mr. Sickle held onto his specimen the longest and appeared to be reluctant to return it to the heavens. Finally he opened his palms, and the matter whizzed up and out.

“When will we be allowed to use that type of matter?” Jonas pointed to the last piece of matter exiting through the open roof.

Mr. Sickle sighed. “After our sojourn on the blue planet is finished, and then only if we have been found worthy to wield such power.” He lowered his eyes to meet Sophie’s. “And if Father’s plan is chosen, then we can only do so if we prove we will choose good over evil.” The teacher motioned toward the doorless opening. “That’s it for now. Be sure to keep an eye on your event indicators for the class schedule and for—” But before he could finish, a whisper of wind passed by Sophie as another student appeared in the seat in front of her.

“New student?” Mr. Sickle asked with a surprised look. “You’ve missed the entire first session.” The student didn’t say anything. “Do you have an administrative pass? Only an admin pass will get you into this series of classes after missing an entire session.”

The student leaned forward and pressed a thin piece of shiny metal in Mr. Sickle’s hand.

“Oh—from HR.” Sickle clicked his tongue and pushed the tiny button. A mini hologram of Saunders phased from it.

“Theodore, I wonder if you won’t mind if Daniel joined your class at this late date?”

Mr. Sickle looked a little put out. “He’s missed an entire session.”

“That was my fault, Theodore.”

Mr. Sickle grimaced. “Nonetheless, Saunders, he has missed a very important session.”

“Now, Theo, Daniel could watch the archive of the class, couldn’t he? And isn’t there someone in your class that might catch him up on it?”

Sophie’s heart skipped a beat—Daniel? The spirit that had rescued her earlier? Maybe she could volunteer to . . .
“I’ll help him,” Jonas called out. Sophie’s breath caught in her throat as Daniel turned around to face him. Jonas glared at Daniel, but Daniel didn’t seem to notice. He was looking directly at her, grinning.

“Hi,” he said. “I was hoping I’d bump in to you again.”

Sophie should force a smile to keep from looking like a complete idiot, what with her mouth hanging open and all. She stared into his warm eyes. “I . . . uh . . .” She looked down at her hands.

“I’m Daniel.”

Yes, she knew that—Daniel with the beautiful girlfriend with the short brown hair. Why is he talking to me? Sophie thought, forcing herself to look up at him.

He reached his hand out. “And you’re—”

Her lips parted to speak, but nothing came out. She couldn’t even remember her own name, let alone think of something remotely intelligent to say.

He dropped his hand but kept the grin. “Jessica? Ashley? Emily?”

“Soph—Sophie,” she mumbled. She felt so brainless. Why was she reacting to him that way? I must look so stupid! She shook her head as if coming out of a daze. “Sophia,” she said, grabbing his hand. Okay, that was a mistake. His hand tingled in hers and she didn’t want to let it go, but of course she had to, so she pushed his hand away fast. “Ohhhh,” she groaned. “Sorry.” She couldn’t bear to look him in the eye. She’d apologize again, and then shrink into the background.

A light breeze came up alongside them, and Sophie glanced over to see the girl with the short brown hair transwill beside them and address Saunders in the hologram. “I’ll see to it that Daniel gets everything he’s missed.”

“Thank you, Grace,” Saunders said.

“Thanks, Gracie.” Daniel reached up and squeezed Grace’s hand.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! What was I thinking? Sophie bit her fingernail and wished she was somewhere else. But of course that could be arranged with a simple, direct thought in her head.

Daniel let go of Grace’s hand, then turned to Sophie. “But no thanks, Grace. I’ve already found a study partner—that is, if it’s okay with . . . did you say your name was Sophia?”

Sophie’s eyes widened. Was he referring to her? He must be, because his unfathomable blue eyes were locked onto hers. “It’s Sophie, and uh—”she squeaked out.

Daniel’s grin stretched across his face as he took her hand. It wasn’t so much his intense eyes as it was his touch that melted her resolve—if ever there was any—but she did retain some sense of dignity as she mouthed her answer in an almost audible tone, “Yes?” She felt her face flush as she continued, “I mean . . .
that is . . . sure thing, I guess so.”

“Great,” he said, standing. He turned back to Grace and gave her a quick hug. “Thanks for your help this afternoon. Hey, do you have plans later? I’m going to—” He continued speaking to Grace as Sophie slipped out of her seat and headed toward the door.

What was she thinking? Daniel was only looking for a tutor. A tutor, not a girlfriend. She glanced back over her shoulder and caught Grace laughing and running her fingers through Daniel’s hair. It was obvious where his heart lay, and that was okay with Sophie. She’d take the class the next time it was offered. She’d distance herself from him as much as heavenly possible. Anyway, Kara, who lived two galaxies north of them, had been begging her to come for a visit.

“Okay, Kara, looks like you’re getting a house guest.” Sophie fumbled with her interstellar communicator as she skipped down the blue marble steps. She accessed the class registrar and punched in a few numbers to request a drop.

“What’s the matter with What’s the Matter?” a voice on the other line said, obviously amused by the play on words in the class’s witty title. It was standard for them to ask the reason for dropping or adding a class.

“I’m taking a trip to the Symcon Galaxy.”

“Oh, okay.” A thin strip of paper shot out from the communicator. “Take this to Sickle and have him approve it.”

Sophie had never dropped a class before. “Why does he have to approve it?”

“If he doesn’t, you’ll lose earned credit for the first session and you’ll have to retake it.”

What’s the Matter consisted of four lengthy sessions. Sophie sighed. She didn’t want to retake the first session—or have to face Sickle again. “Thank you.” She closed the communicator and stuffed it, along with the strip of paper, into her purse, and then transwilled herself to her small condominium.

Heavenly residences were purely a personal choice. Your home could be big or small, and you could share your dwelling with others, or be completely by yourself. Sophie liked to be by herself—no interruptions, no one trying to second-guess her moods or feelings, and besides, friends were just a direct thought away, though no spirit ever “popped” into someone’s private abode without some kind of an invitation. Every dwelling had a communication center—a rather comfortable portal communicator to everywhere—with only a few exceptions.

Sophie slipped into the plush seat and spoke softly. “Kara of Symcon Galaxy, fifth quadrant from its sun.”

An image burst to life in front of her of Kara performing a breathtaking dance. Her thoughts projected to Sophie between each graceful movement. Hello, Sophie!

“Hi, Kara. You look busy. I’ll call back later.”

Nonsense! I can communicate with you while I perform. She leaped into the air and landed on the other side of the stage. The audience clapped lightly, turning to one another and nodding with enthusiasm for her perfectly executed arch landing. Have you decided to join me for the Creation Celebration?

Sophie watched as Kara spiraled into the air and then slipped to the floor in a finale bow. She remained that way for several seconds as the crowd clapped and cheered.

“Yes, I think I will.”

Wonderful! Kara stood and curtseyed to the audience. Come right away—we’re having a private party before the celebration. She grinned and turned her face toward Sophie. And I have someone I want you to meet. She blocked her thoughts from Sophie as she turned to greet the director of the performance. This person Kara wanted her to meet was probably a new boyfriend. Kara had as many boyfriends as there were stars in both of their galaxies combined.
A private party? Sophie groaned. She didn’t care much for parties, and a private party was even worse. What to wear? What to say? She glanced into her small closet filled with neutral-colored clothing, mostly in khaki and deep brown. She never had much use for anything else, although acquiring clothing was easy. All she had to do was request a certain outfit and it would be flash-delivered on the spot, but what a bother.

She pushed her clothing aside and pulled out a plain, knee-length dress. She slipped it over her head and stared at her slender image in the mirror. It would have to do. She ran her fingers through her long auburn hair, smoothing out a stubborn strand. She lay her clothing and personal belongs on the bed, and with a wave of her hand reduced them to minuscule size and slipped them into a small bag inside her purse.

Should she leave a note? No—no one would even notice she was gone. She hadn’t grouped like the others had, and except for Kara, she hadn’t made any lasting friendships. Anyhow, she wouldn’t be gone long, just long enough for a short, relaxing break. “Okay, I’m ready.” She slung her purse over her shoulder and transwilled to Kara’s place in the Symcon Galaxy.

Kara’s home was quite a bit different than Sophie’s. You could fit fifty or more of her small condominiums into Kara’s main house. Sophie walked through the ornate hallways to the room she always stayed in. The room was light and airy with one open wall overlooking a small, wooded lake. That’s why Sophie loved the room—she felt as if she were inside and outside at the same time. She smoothed a wrinkle out of her dress and sat in an oversized lounger facing the lake. A bird of the lightest blue landed on the table beside her and welcomed her back. She reached her hand out and it hopped onto her finger. “Hi, Corbin,” she said, bringing him up to her face. “How’ve you been?”

He chirped with enthusiasm. “We received our mortal birth order a little while ago. I’ll have one of the first bodies created on the blue planet! Well, of my kind, at least.”

“Excellent!” Sophie wanted to tell him she would miss him, but his mortal existence would be mere seconds of heaven’s time, though it would feel much longer to him.

“Hey! You made it!” Kara came up behind her and threw her arms around Sophie’s shoulders. “Hello, Corbin,” she said to the small bird. Corbin nodded and flittered off over the lake. Kara turned back to Sophie. “So, how’d you like my performance?” Kara gave her an anxious look.

“I loved it!” Sophie smiled, wondering why Kara always needed to be told that. Nothing had changed—she was an incredible dancer and always would be.

“I could teach you.” She pulled Sophie to her feet.

“Ohhhh, not again,” Sophie moaned. Not that a small part of her didn’t want to. She just didn’t have any talent in that area. She pulled away. “I don’t want to!”

Kara stuck out her lower lip. “Please? I’ll keep it simple—I promise.” She did an uncomplicated side step and gestured for Sophie to follow her.

Sophie tripped over her own feet, but after several tries was able to follow Kara around the room without knocking anything down—if you don’t count the potted fern that righted itself before it tipped completely over. Sophie fell back into the lounger, dangling her hands and feet over the sides. “Okay—enough torture.”

Kara laughed and sat on the floor beside her. “Speaking of torture . . .” she said with a sly look in her eye.

Sophie recognized that look. It was the I’m-going-to-fix-you-up-with-someone-real-nice look. Last time she tried to do that, Sophie had to go into hiding on the tenth-distant galaxy until the “nice” guy forgot about her. She huffed and pulled herself up on her elbows. “No way, Kara.”

“Oh, come on, he’s really a nice guy!”

“It’s not going to happen.” Sophie sat up straight and frowned. What did it matter if she found a partner anyhow? Mortality could change all of that. However, the chosen couples did look happy together.

“And he’s from our Progression, too.”

Well, that narrowed it down to about fifty billion. Sophie rolled her eyes. “I’m just not interested.”

“If it makes you feel any better, he doesn’t want to meet you either.”

“Really?” Well, that was a pleasant surprise. Maybe he would leave her alone then.

“Look, just say hi, dance a few times, and sit the rest out if you want.”

Sophie grimaced. “Dance a few times?”

Kara gave her a pleading look. “Once?”

“No! None!” Sophie stood up and straightened her dress.

Kara sighed. “Well, at least say hi, okay?”

Sophie nodded. She could say hi, but that was all.

“Be ready in a few, okay?” Kara called over her shoulder as she stepped out of the room. “Got you some cute dresses—they’re in the changing room!”

Sophie looked down at her plain brown dress. What was the matter with what she was wearing? “Wait!” She hurried after Kara and groaned when she couldn’t catch up. She knew why Kara left quickly—to prevent her from arguing the dress thing again.

It was amazing they were such good friends. Kara had a knack for trying to improve Sophie’s wardrobe, hairstyles, and relation-less relationships.

Sophie stepped into the changing room and was greeted by a long row of exquisite dresses—nothing she would ever wear. She ran her fingers over a light blue gown that shimmered, casting fractured rays of light at her touch. It was beautiful to look at, but definitely not her style. She walked past all the dresses until she came to a light green gown. It wasn’t flashy, so why was it in Kara’s collection? It didn’t shimmer or sparkle, and it was the same color as the spontaneously appearing leaves on the trees outside of her room. Hmm, I do like that color, and it would match my eyes, Sophie thought.

She pulled her brown dress off, and the green one slipped over her head and formed to her body as if it had been specially made for her. She glanced down at the dress and realized it was made of thousands of tiny, overlapping green leaves. She looked in a mirror on the wall and jumped back as a row of leaves pulled away from the dress and weaved through her hair. By the time they were finished, her hair was piled on top of her head, with delicate arrays of light green leaves framing her surprised face. For a fraction of a split second, she liked what she saw, but then common sense took over and she pulled the dress along with the hair wreath off her body. She put her simple brown dress back on and stepped out of the changing room. Kara was waiting with a frown on her face.

“Nothing?” Kara looked fabulous in a ruby red gown that accented her shiny black hair and deep brown eyes.
“No. Sorry.” Of course she shouldn’t say sorry if she didn’t mean it, but it was better than saying what she wanted to say, and a lot kinder, too.

“Okay then, let’s go.” Kara took her by the hand, and before Sophie could protest, they transwilled to the private party before the Creation Celebration.

a

The room was alive with a variety of sounds ranging from the light tinkling of crystal glasses to the booming voice of one of Kara’s guests as he sang a popular heavenly lament.

If I could see the heavens from the planet blue below,
I’d know that it’s worth all the work I’ll be called to do,
To leave my home and journey there, to live beneath the stars,
Never knowing heaven from its depths, no remembrance bright and fair,

But only in my deepest heart will all shine bright and true,

For never could heaven’s peaceful thought not find refuge there.

“He’s got a great voice, huh?” Kara leaned into Sophie.

Sophie had to agree. She loved that passage too, about the memories of their former lives in heaven being taken from them during their time on the blue planet. It was meant to be the greatest of tests, one of true character. What would they do if they didn’t know they were being watched and carefully monitored for their choices? She knew what they would do. They’d prove their moral fiber.

She found her way over to the singer and sat back in a comfortable chair, caught up in the alluring melody. She didn’t see a spirit come up next to her and was surprised when his voice broke into her thoughts.

“Sophia?” Daniel nudged her. “Sophie?”

“Oh!” She gazed up into his blue eyes. “Daniel?” She sat forward, feeling a bit awkward. What is he doing here? He gave her a look of curiosity like he must be thinking the same thing—what was she doing there?

He grinned. “You left so suddenly after class that I didn’t get to talk to you.”

“Oh.” Okay, why couldn’t she think of something clever to say, like, “Was that after you finished asking Grace for a date?”

“So, are we on for later?” he asked.

On for what? “Actually . . .” She would have to tell him she was dropping What’s the Matter, so she might as well get it over with. “Well, I . . .”

A couple on the dance floor moved closer to them. “Hey, Daniel.”

He nodded. “Hey, Markus.”

Sophie squinted, trying to get a good look at Markus’s date, but she could only see her back. She watched as Markus tenderly caressed her face and then ran his hand through her short hair. Sophie couldn’t help but sigh. Some girls, like Markus’s date and Kara, had all the luck. When would someone ever love Sophie that way?

“So—tomorrow?”

“Huh? What’s that?” Sophie asked, snapping back to reality. She blinked twice. Focus girl—he already has a girlfriend.

“I

. . . uh, tomorrow?” She let the word roll off her tongue slowly, like she had other plans. Maybe her hesitation would give her the edge she would need to get out of it altogether.

The music stopped and Markus walked over to them. He glanced at Sophie. “You with this guy?”

She laughed lightly. “No, he’s already got—” Markus’s date moved up beside him and Sophie sucked in a breath. “Grace?” Her mouth dropped open as Grace slipped her arm through Markus’s.

“Hi! Hey, aren’t you in my What’s the Matter class? Funny running into you way out here!” Grace looked at Daniel and smirked. “Is this why you recommended Symcon Galaxy?”

Markus scrutinized the both of them. “So, you two are together?”

“No! No,” Sophie said. She saw the confused look on Daniel’s face but blurted out, “We just know each other from What’s the Matter. I guess I’m tutoring him.”

“Really?” Markus looked surprised.

“Yeah. I missed the whole first class.” Daniel gave him a dark look.

“But—” Markus began to say something, stopping when Daniel’s eyes narrowed. “So, Fran will be here soon, you know, that girl I wanted to introduce to you.” Daniel pursed his lips as Markus took him aside and spoke low to him. Sophie didn’t have to wonder what about—apparently Kara wasn’t the only one who lived to torture others.

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