We walked for a long time in silence.  I remembered what I was like when I was young:  quiet and shy, afraid to speak to people.  In high school and university I metamorphosed into a chatterbox who never shut up, with people I was friends with, anyway.  But my time in the desert had shown me that my talkative behaviour was the same as my quiet childhood:  in both cases I had been unsure around people.  Silence protected me from having to trust them with my thoughts, and talking too much accomplished the same thing.  So long as I was talking I would seem fine, seem engaged, but in reality I still felt out of place no matter who I was with.

            But with Mara it was different.  I didn’t feel the need to talk with her.  I was happy just being quiet, sitting with her or walking, or listening when she wanted to talk.  I felt at peace with her, like I belonged. 

            She looked like she was about to say something probably a half dozen times while we walked, but each time she stopped herself, as if uncertain about how to begin.  Something was going on in that pretty head of hers, but I didn’t want to rush her about it.  She would say what she needed to when she was ready.  I was just glad to be with her.

            We fell asleep on the path, Mara wrapping her wings around us as we nestled down on the grass.  I held her hands in mine, kissed them gently, and settled in to sleep.  I could feel her breathing, sense her heartbeat, and I knew she would be awake for a while after I went to sleep. 

As a child I had learned something of a trick with my siblings, while holding them when they were babies.  If I did my best to relax myself, changing my breathing, eventually calming my heartbeat, they often fell asleep even if they had been agitated before that.  Now I concentrated on exuding that same calm atmosphere, hoping to help Mara sleep.

            I know it put me to sleep, anyway.  I don’t know if it helped her or not, but when I awoke in the morning she was asleep in any case.  I gazed in adoration, memorizing her face.  I had never felt so safe, or so lucky.  She eventually awoke, those startling eyes meeting mine.  She smiled.

            “Good morning.”  I said, and handed her a flower I had found on the path.  She smelled it and smiled again, tucking it behind her ear.

            “Thank you.”  Mara said, and then kissed me.  Her hand felt soft and warm on my cheek.  When our kiss ended she spent a long moment staring into my eyes.  I blushed a little, not used to this kind of scrutiny.

            “I have something to tell you.”  She began.  I only nodded, giving her encouragement to continue.  “Long before you were born God promised me that I had a soul-mate, someone who could make me whole.  My father, yesterday, was saying that God wants me to know that time is coming.  Because you are the one who makes my heart feel whole.”

            I felt emotion surge through my body.  Every nerve ending in my body seemed filled with light, no compliment could mean more to me than her words.  I felt tears in my eyes and could not respond.

            “God told me I would have to make a sacrifice, and my father said yesterday that I have to make a choice.  I think that at the end of this path I have to choose between being an angel or being with you.”  Mara said, tears in her eyes.  “I can be wholly an angel, and be accepted by my family in Heaven.  Or I can be wholly human and be with you.”

            I felt a lump in my throat.  I had lost her once, that summer where she had been Faith.  I knew how much that had hurt then. 

            “Mara, I love you.”  I said at last, finding my voice.  “But I will never stand in the way of your dreams, your plans, your choices for your life.  I want you to do what you feel you want the most.  If you need time to make the choice, if you want space, I can understand that.”

            She looked into the distance for a long time.  I sat there, my heart beating rapidly, my chest locked up tight, not knowing if I should say more, or if I had said too much, questioning what I was to do.  I loved her beyond words, wanted her with me, but knew that I could not say I loved her if I could not let her follow her own heart wherever it might lead.  I wanted her to be free to be herself, not just who I wanted her to be.

            “When I lived in Heaven, I felt like I didn’t belong.  My father was very caring, and my Uncle Jeremiah did his best.  Our friend Enoch was very kind.  But most of my family, the other angels, didn’t care about me one way or the other.  I know they talked about me behind my back, I know that they didn’t want me there.  I never knew my mother, and never really had anyone to talk to about how I felt.  I was always lonely, even when I was surrounded by angels, in the midst of Heaven.”

            I listened, and my heart broke for her, the alienation she must have felt for countless years in that place among people who could not see her for who she was, how amazing Mara was.  I was astonished that they were blind to how wonderful she was, the depth of her soul, her strength, her heart.

            “I have learned a lot about humanity, from the Library and from watching your life.”  Mara continued.  “I know that there is cruelty, pain and suffering among your people.  I also know that there is compassion and love.  There is risk and danger, the possibility of sinning and damnation, the possibility of grace and redemption.  So much confusion, so many choices, Heaven isn’t like that at all.”

            She wiped tears from her eyes, sniffling.  “No one in Heaven cries, either.”  Mara tried to smile, and I laughed with her, sniffling back my own tears.  I knew that this choice was difficult for her.

            “If I become an angel, I’ll finally belong.”  Mara said.  “It will be my home, not just the place I live.”  I nodded, understanding.  “But if I become human, I become just as vulnerable as any other person, with all the chaos of that life…  It’s frightening, in Heaven no one ever worries.  But no one ever chooses either.”

            “What do you mean?”  I asked.

            “Angels and humans are not the same.”  Mara said.  “We’re like different species.  Both are children of God, and there are similarities, it’s possible for us to interact…  But aside from the superficial differences, the main difference between a human and an angel is that human beings have free will, and angels don’t.  They never make a choice, ever.  They do what they do because it is in their nature.  I am the only angel who ever had to make a choice, because I’m half-human.”

            “So if you choose to be an angel, that’s the last choice you’ll ever make for yourself?”  I asked.  Mara nodded solemnly.  “But being human includes the risk of making wrong choices, or being vulnerable to the choices of others?”

            “That’s right.  As an angel I could never be harmed, never die.”

            I closed my eyes, praying for strength.

            “I think that you should give your choice a lot of thought.”  I said.  “We have until this path ends, after all.  Who knows how long that will be?  I also think that, no matter what you choose, I will support you and love you either way.  I just want you to be happy.”

            Mara smiled, and then flew off to get me breakfast.  Meanwhile, I held myself and cried.  I felt overwhelmed with emotion:  I couldn’t believe that she had grown up in Heaven unloved by angels, I didn’t want her to leave me, but I also didn’t want to ever see her hurt…  There was too much, all of it was confusing.  I had spent my whole life waiting for her, and felt like I could not bear it if she left.  But she had spent her whole life being unsure of who she was, what she was supposed to be.  Her wholeness, her feelings, seemed more important than mine.  I wanted Mara to be Mara, even if that meant she had to leave me. 

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