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SHE WAS, to him, a pretty girl: slightly longer than shoulder-length black hair usually braided or in a ponytail, dark eyes, double dimples on each cheek when she smiled, which wasn't often. She occasionally wore glasses for astigmatism (far too infrequently, as it turned out) and had braces and a little acne, but nothing beyond the norm for her sixteen years.
Others, he was certain, would judge her plain. He found he couldn't, even when he tried.
She stood five feet five inches tall and weighed ninety-nine pounds. Very skinny. She typically wore denims with conservative blouses or shirts; the school she attended (
) had a strict uniform policy. He looked
over several photos of her in her uniform. Her skirts hung at her knees and
were green and blue plaid. She held books in one photo—all mathematics texts
(calculus, by the looks of two of them). That made him smile. Bible First
He stared at that bullet point for a long time. He had every time he studied it while in Heaven, too. It struck him painfully. He glanced again at the picture.
He had spent his mortal life as a researcher, and had been one of the very best. There were many mathematicians who were, truthfully, smarter than him, but none could hold a candle to his research skills, which made him, in practical terms, smarter than them. He knew not only where to look to find answers, but also how, and knew how to order and synthesize them in the best way possible to obtain the results he desired. He could open eleven documents and cross-reference them without forgetting where everything was. His ability to make connections unseen by anyone else was almost legendary in academic circles. He had been very proud of that skill while alive. Now, with a task much more difficult than any math proof staring at him, could he bring those skills to bear in service of this young woman?
She wasn’t just unhappy; she was planning to kill herself. The lack of friends was insignificant compared to the overriding reason.
He took notes as he scrolled down. The symbols he couldn’t read while looking over Calliel’s shoulder rolled up and out of sight. They were the “Alphadeos,” Calliel told him. Each symbol led to a multitude of others “inside” it. Together they revealed the essence of the subject at hand through direct intuition, and each were specific and unique to that subject—in this case, Deanna Franks. They were, in effect, her own unique language, her own unique set of symbols.
Parents: Martin and
Lorraine, aged forty-seven and forty-five.
Mr. Franks owned a mildly successful furniture outlet store in National City; she was a homemaker and
crafting blogger. Both were fundamentalist Christians and very loud about it,
as they were about their conservative political beliefs. Lorraine was a control freak; and Martin…
He looked away from the screen, his countenance darkening.
It was incredible that Deanna had lasted as long as she had.
She had three siblings, Todd, Clinton, and Martin, Jr., twenty-three, twenty-one, and nineteen, respectively. Todd worked with his father at the store; Clinton and Martin, Jr., had graduated high school and joined the military—Marines for one, Air Force for the other. Todd still lived at home.
Deanna’s intelligence far outstripped them all—to her unceasing detriment. He clicked on a related video from two years ago, but had to stop it less than halfway through. In it she sat at a desk, staring down at it, while her mother and teacher discussed the “theological issues” with having a gifted daughter who loved a discipline reserved for men.
“Is it a sign?” demanded her mom.
Her teacher sighed and shook her head. “I don’t know. It could be.”
Mrs. Franks looked alarmed. “A satanic sign?”
“All I know is Deanna delves into subjects best left to men, not women,” replied her teacher. “Past a certain point, mathematics should be left to men. The Bible is quite clear on the matter. Science and math are manly pursuits. We try to push young girls on a different path when they get to fifth grade. Deanna has steadfastly refused to see the wisdom in our guidance.”
“I agree,” said her mother, regarding her with suspicion and disdain. Deanna didn’t look up from the desk.
Regular efforts had been made to divorce Deanna from math. Then, curiously, those efforts were abruptly abandoned. The year-old photo of her with two calculus texts and one on beginning statistics wasn’t one any mortal had taken. Still, she was in a school. Given what he had just seen, it couldn’t have been her high school. He checked, and saw that it was …
“Well, I’ll be,” he murmured.
Deanna Franks was occasionally going to
for math tutoring! San Diego Cooperative College
The college he worked at the last thirteen years of his mortal life!
Who was her tutor? When the name came up, he squinted.
Dan McQuinty was a tenured professor not of mathematics, but of religious history! He was one of the longest employed of any staff there—almost twenty-eight years. He had made his name as a philosophical Idealist and had published a dozen books, the last of which had drawn a sizeable readership. If a celebrity staff-member existed at SDCC, it was Dan McQuinty.
Were there any videos of him and Deanna Franks working together? Any photographs? He checked.
No videos, but there were photographs. Somehow Deanna was getting up to SDCC without being caught by her parents or teachers and receiving advanced mathematics instruction—by a religious history professor!
How was she doing it? How was she able to get all the way from
Chula Vista to downtown San Diego?
He went to find out, but stopped, thinking of Calliel's warning not to do too much research before meeting her.
“It doesn’t help,” Calliel had explained. “You want to meet her with an open mind. If you do, you keep the … let’s call them the field of possibilities … at a maximum.”
“Interesting term. Do those ‘fields’ ever surprise you?”
Calliel chuckled. “You’re asking that?”
“I take it I kind of broke the mold.”
“You were so far outside the mold, Ray, that the old one needed a long-range missile for it to be broken.”
“You need to employ that way-beyond-the-mold uniqueness to help this girl. I’m sure that’s why you were chosen to help her. But to do that, you gotta occasionally resist the temptation to peer inside the box, as it were. Sometimes you need to go in, well …”
“Call it that, sure.”
He took a couple gulps of beer and continued his research.
If he found out how Deanna was getting up to SDCC without getting caught, fine; if not, better.
In the eighth grade she shared a passionate kiss with a classmate named Wendy in the girls’ locker room. There were, thankfully, no video or photographs.
“The human soul has a shield,” Calliel informed him. “With exceptions, something deeply personal to the subject won’t be witnessable. The incident will appear as a written record, and then only the bare bones of it. Oftentimes you have to look for it, because it'll be hidden.”
“So all those times I spent in the bathroom as a teenager …”
Calliel laughed. “And all those times surfin’ porn as an adult, I’m sure.”
“I wasn’t much for doing that,” he offered. “But yeah, I get the idea. It’s why I didn’t follow you into the bathroom when I was attached to you.”
“Exactly. Why would you want to watch me pee?”
“Because you’re my hero and I want to know how real heroes do it.”
“Well, then, cowboy,” laughed Calliel, “let’s go drink some beer and I’ll take you around the back of the barn and give you instruction.”
“Good. If you’d said yes, I’d be worried.”
He brought his attention back to the screen. The smile he sported faded, then disappeared.
Deanna had secretly considered herself a lesbian since that incident, but lately had been feeling intense doubts about it. She felt attraction for girls, true enough; but she found herself feeling the same attraction for boys.
Her upbringing was excruciatingly and blaringly loud on the matter: homosexuality was a “mortal sin.” It was “deviant” and “evil.” As a result, she suffered tremendous guilt and anxiety for feeling what she did. When she started feeling the same attraction for boys, she felt tremendous relief. In a moment of stupefying weakness, she admitted to a counselor her bisexual tendencies, and then listened for the next twenty minutes as the counselor vomited out a dozen biblical passages, and then proceeded to lecture her on the evils of “deviancy” and homosexuality.
“God intended for one man and one woman to be together, Deanna, not man and man or woman and woman, and certainly not man, man, and woman, or woman, woman, and man!”
The available video was from the counselor’s office. He forced her to pray for forgiveness, then sent her home. Shortly afterward he called her parents.
That video he could scarcely watch, for her father beat her with a wooden spoon and threw her into her room. The next video showed him walking into her room several hours later and closing the door. The heavenly camera didn’t follow him, but stayed outside, focused on the door itself. The noises coming from inside the room couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than what they were, what Martin Franks called “godly disciplining of his flock.”
Deanna's face was red and swollen when she emerged from her bedroom the next morning. She carried herself stiffly and said nothing at school the following week. A postscript told him that that was how long it took the bleeding to stop.
It was by no means the first time her father had "disciplined" her. Others had “disciplined” her as well, all with her father’s blessing.
He couldn’t continue after counting eighteen such incidents and seeing that the list went on for a nauseatingly long time after that, so he turned his computer off and lowered the top.
Behind the computer was a fine cherrywood case. He picked it up, opened it, and took out the mathematical compass inside. A pencil lay on the desk; he picked it up and fit it into the compass’ hold and secured it tightly with the screw. He grabbed a sheet of blank paper and set it down on the metal tablet next to the laptop and started drawing random arcs, sometimes taking a ruler and slashing lines through them. It was what he did as a kid when he felt troubled, and when he got to Heaven he started doing it again. It calmed him and gave him something to think about, especially when shapes and intersections were created that tickled his fancy.
“I don’t know how I can meet Deanna, Lord,” he said, staring at a curvy trapezoidal figure and shaking his head. “She seems utterly trapped in a web of desperation and malevolence.”
Dan McQuinty, came the answer. It was language, but unspoken, and felt like home and peace and infinite assurance.
“Won’t that freak him out? He knows I died.”
Remember what Calliel told you.
“That’s right. Thank you, Lord.”
She needs you, my raven. It is time you put your gifts to good use. Be fearless and bold.
“I won’t let you down, Lord.”
I know you won’t.
He continued doodling for a time, then quit. He set the compass down on the paper, now thoroughly arced and criss-crossed, and stood and left the study, turning off the lights behind him. Ten minutes later he crawled into bed.
He was going to need a good night’s sleep for what was ahead.