“That you’re energetic and personable.”
“How’d you know that?”
“Yeah, how’d you figure that about Yolanda?” another boy demanded, then leaned over to the student at the desk next to him. “What’s personable mean?”
“Shhh, I’m next and I want to know what she’s gonna say about me.”
“Modesto Diaz,” Brynn called out, looking at the youth above the grade book.
He curled his upper lip and snarled at her. “Yo.”
Brynn added her comment to the book.
“What’d ya say?” Modesto insisted, straightening. He was halfway out of his seat. “I gotta right to know since you told the others.”
“I wrote down that you have a flair for the dramatic.”
“What’s that mean?” Modesto asked Emilio under his breath.
“The hell if I know,” Emilio complained. “She’s gonna be one weird teacher.”
By lunchtime Brynn was convinced Emilio was right. She was completely out of touch with their world. Her vocabulary, which she’d never thought of as especially advanced, served to confuse her students. Half the morning was spent repeating in simpler terms what she’d said previously.
She’d no more than handed out The Diary of Anne Frank and briefly described to them Anne’s story when the bell rang for their first break. The classroom emptied so fast, one would think the school was on fire.
Brynn sat down at her desk and exhaled sharply, weary to the bone. This was her first day in an inner-city high school, and she was going to need help—lots of help, and she didn’t expect it to come in the form of the PTA.
Bowing her head, she murmured a simple prayer, asking for patience and guidance. She yearned to teach her students to dream, to look to the future with enthusiasm. She hungered for them to see beyond the troubles they faced day in and day out and reach for the stars, and she wanted to be the one to show them the way.
* * *
Brynn’s whispered prayer fluttered past the chipped blackboard, echoed silently through the scarred halls, as it winged its way toward heaven. The request soared, swiftly spanning the distance between man and God. Carried on the brisk winds of faith, guided by devotion, navigated by love, it arrived fresh and bright at the very feet of the Archangel Gabriel.
“Brynn Cassidy,” Gabriel repeated slowly as he flipped through the cumbersome book, marking the entry. He was writing when he glanced up to find Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy standing directly across the desk from him. He’d never seen the three look more—he hated the term—angelic. Their wings were neatly folded in place and they smiled serenely as if the world were at their feet.
“It’s that time of year again,” Goodness reminded him, grinning broadly.
Gabriel’s hand tightened around the quill pen. Heaven help him, he was going to be left to deal with these three lovable troublemakers once more.
“Time of year for what?” he asked. Gabriel was playing dumb in a stalling effort. For the past two years this trio of prayer ambassadors had visited earth, working their own unique brand of miracles. A sort of divine intervention run amuck.
“We’d like to try our hand in the Big Apple,” Mercy explained with limited patience. It was apparent she was eager to get her assignment and be on her way. “We’ve been looking forward to working together again,” she reminded him primly. “One would assume that with the success of the past two years we’d have proven ourselves beyond question.”
“We don’t mean to be impertinent,” Goodness inserted, glaring at her fellow prayer ambassador, “but I find myself agreeing with Mercy.”
“Brynn Cassidy,” Shirley repeated softly, reading over Gabriel’s shoulder.
Gabriel deliberately closed the huge book, cutting off Shirley’s view. The last thing he needed was for the former guardian angel to take a hankering for this particular assignment.
The students of Manhattan High would require a far more experienced angel than Shirley. Why, her tender heart would be mush by the end of a week, working with this group of adolescents. Frankly, Gabriel didn’t expect Brynn Cassidy to last long herself.
Gabriel knew all about the young teacher. Her mother and grandfather had been praying for her for several years. As far as Gabriel was concerned, Brynn Cassidy was far more suited to teaching the proper young ladies of St. Mary Academy. Manhattan High was a graveyard of lost souls. An unseen storm cloud had settled over the school, feeding on tears yet to be shed and broken promises. Brynn’s humble faith was like a newborn lamb placed in the midst of ravenous wolves. She’d quickly be devoured. Naturally Gabriel would do what he could to aid her, but one ill-equipped prayer ambassador would hardly be sufficient.
“Brynn needs me,” Shirley said, looking him squarely in the eye.
“She needs an army. I don’t mean to discourage you,” Gabriel said, feeling mildly guilty, “I’m sure we’ll find a more appropriate assignment for you. A less complicated request,” he muttered more to himself than to Shirley.
As he recalled, a prayer request had come in that morning from a teenage girl in Boston who needed a date for prom night. Surely Shirley could scrounge up a decent young man. As for Goodness and Mercy, why, there were any number of less demanding requests with which to occupy them.
“Give me a minute,” he said, flipping through the unwieldy book, finding a page, and running his index finger down the large number of entries. “I’m sure I’ll come up with something appropriate for each of you.”
“No arguments?” Goodness asked, her eyes wide with surprise.
“Wow, maybe we have proven ourselves.”
“I want to talk to Goodness about Hannah Morganstern,” Gabriel said, his brow creased with contemplation.
“Yes,” Goodness answered excitedly.
“Her family owns one of the most popular delis in all of New York,” the Archangel went on to explain.
Goodness and Mercy looked at each other and squealed with delight. The two joined hands and danced a happy jig around his desk, kicking up their heels.
“What about me?” Mercy asked, breathless with excitement.
“Jenny Lancaster,” Gabriel said decisively. “She moved to New York from Custer, Montana, three years ago, hoping to make a name for herself on Broadway.”
“No,” Gabriel said with a sigh of regret. “It’s time to go home, only she can’t bear to face that. You see, she doesn’t want to disappoint her family, and I’m afraid she’s stretched the truth and told them things that weren’t altogether true. You’re going to have to help her make the decision.”
“I can do it.”
“Without moving the Statue of Liberty?” Gabriel demanded.
“That’s kid stuff,” Goodness muttered.
“Maybe so, but is Rockefeller Center safe?”
The two found little humor in his question. It was then that Gabriel noticed that Shirley had disappeared.
Goodness and Mercy glanced over their shoulders. “I haven’t a clue.”
“I didn’t see her leave.”
Gabriel had a sneaking suspicion he already knew where the prayer ambassador had disappeared to. “Wait here,” he instructed impatiently. He raised his massive arms and with one wide, sweeping motion parted the clouds of heaven and descended from paradise to the mundane world.
He found Shirley right where he suspected: in an inner-city classroom, keeping a close watch on a young, inexperienced schoolteacher.
Brynn finished her lunch and poured herself a cup of coffee. Standing at the window, she looked out over the concrete jungle that made up the city.
St. Philip’s, the cathedral located across the street, had once been the pride of the diocese. The stained-glass windows, depicting the Stations of the Cross, had aged badly over the years. A flight of concrete steps led to the eight-foot-tall double doors. The church was a magnificent piece of Gothic architecture, but like Manhattan High, it had fallen upon harsh economic times.
When Brynn had first been approached about this assignment, she’d visited New York City and loved it. There was a rhythm to the city, a musical beat that had set her heart to racing.
In her mind’s eye came a picture of prosperity and abundance. Not of wealth or riches in the monetary sense, but of purpose. The feeling had stayed with her in the days that followed, and when she’d penned her name to the contract, Brynn had felt instinctively that she was doing the right thing.
Following the break, Brynn headed down the crowded hallway. Several students leaned against their lockers in passionate embraces. This was a foreign element to Brynn, since she’d attended a parochial girls’ high school as well as taught in one. It was a bit of a shock to discover how friendly students were allowed to get in the school hallway.
A ruckus broke out at the end of the corridor, and several heated words in Spanish flew at her like fiery darts. Brynn’s knowledge of the language was limited, but she was well aware the two boys weren’t exchanging pleasantries.
After making her way to the problem, she found Emilio Alcantara and an African American she didn’t know staring each other down. A crowd had circled around the two.
“Is there a problem here?” Brynn asked, maneuvering into the tight circle.
“If you know what’s good for you, Teach, you’d better leave,” Emilio advised.
“I can’t do that, and now I suggest you two boys give it up and go about your business. Fighting isn’t going to solve anything.”
The black boy looked at her with such unadulterated hatred that for a wild second Brynn was caught speechless. She’d never had a student, or anyone else, look at her in quite that way.
A shiver ran up her spine when she noticed both boys had knives. She grabbed Suzie Chang, the shy girl from her class, by the shoulder. “Get help immediately,” she ordered, her heart in her throat.
Suzie took off running.
By then the Hispanic youths had lined one side of the hallway and the blacks dominated the second half. The two ethnic groups glared at one another, waiting for an excuse, any excuse, to fight. The atmosphere was explosive, the tension as tightly strung as a fiddle.
Without thinking, Brynn positioned herself between the two boys. Her head was spinning and she felt lightheaded with fear. “Stop,” she ordered in her most authoritative voice, but the request sounded hollow even to her own ears.
The sound of footsteps running toward her was so welcome, Brynn nearly collapsed with relief. A male teacher and a janitor exploded onto the scene, and the knives disappeared as if by magic. Emilio and the other youth looked as if they were the best of friends. Emilio wrapped his arm around the black youth.
“What’s happening, bro?”
“What’s going on here?” Doug Keast, the teacher, demanded, looking to Brynn.
“Emilio and this young man were involved in an exchange of words. Everything’s under control now. Thanks for your help.”