No matter how much he’d rather be somewhere else, he didn’t actually care where he was, because Tom Baker was happy just to be alive. It wasn’t an easy task, but he liked living. To do that, he had to push the distractions out, put his head down, and work on finishing the night’s paperwork. Basic, but as far as he was concerned, life was a hell of a lot easier if the accounts were kept up to date. If they weren’t, then chaos could erupt, and he’d had enough of that to last him for an eternity. Looking to the side of his desk, he saw his dinner, a bowl full of lettuce, tomatoes, olives, and bean sprouts, sitting untouched next to a full glass of water. Unfortunately, because he hadn’t taken more than a half dozen bites, didn’t mean he’d been working hard, far from it.
The Fickle Pickle had been his lifeline when he needed it most, back when he’d been a novice to living sober. Booze had been a part of his life for so long, he wasn’t sure when drinking had stopped being fun, and become a necessity. However, he knew exactly what adventure had started the bottle rolling.
As a teen in a small village resting on the outskirts of a large city in northern England, he and his friends had come together, and formed a rock band. They thought they were cool and kept playing when they discovered how many girls would flock to their sides and offer sex. It had all been exciting, a dream come true for a young lad.
They’d started playing in whatever backyard, bedroom, or garage they found available, and eventually were asked to do parties. Once that stage had been conquered, they made their way onto the local pub circuit, and felt like kings. The pints were flowing and it became normal to have a couple as they set up, a few more as they played, and then they started to seriously party once their last set ended.
Suddenly, without any warning, their lives had all surged to the moon when the unexpected had been handed to them on a platter. One night, as they played an old dance hall in Leeds, they were discovered. A producer had come to see the headliners, a band that had a syrupy teen idol as a front man, and ended up liking their band, The Newts. They’d put themselves out there as traditional rockers, different from what was popular at the time, and it helped them stand out from the crowd. They hadn’t believed all he claimed to be and had had a laugh later when driving home. In the end, the laugh was on them. The man showed up at their next gig and brought an agent along with him. After a trip to London to meet with the agent again, they found themselves in their local pub, surrounded by parents, signing a contract to do an album.
They’d ranged in age from sixteen to eighteen when they hit it big. The first album went double platinum and they ended the year in the much sought after top of the charts position. It had all seemed so unreal. From that point on, The Newts were huge, larger than their wildest imaginations had ever wandered. Tours around Europe, North America, and into Asia were followed by more albums, more chart busting hits, more drinking, women, and tattoos. The merry-go-round kept going and he hadn’t wanted to get off.
It surprised him more today to realize, in the tough world of music, they’d lasted over ten years at the top of the music biz before they’d crashed and burned.
Not long after the band had an ugly bust up, which hit him really hard because he’d believed they were all mates first, he’d sobered up. Somewhere along their run to the top, he’d made a few weird choices, and hadn’t liked where he saw his life was going. He was lucky in that his parents stayed with him and never stopped telling him to save the hundreds of thousands of pounds he was being given. They were his biggest supporters and he’d listened to them, although it had been easy to do. The band had been on the road so much, he’d never had a chance to spend his dosh. Thankfully and unintentionally, making such a move had put him in a good place for a second career.
In the beginning of his sobriety he hadn’t wanted to wander far from his comfort zone, music, so had poured his heart and soul into making the club a success. Surprisingly to some people, like his AA sponsor, being around the alcohol hadn’t caused him any problems. From the start he’d been far too intent on making The Fickle Pickle the place for music executives to go to while in northern England trying to discover fresh talent. He’d used any connections he still had and it paid off. The producers and agents frequented the club to see who he had playing.
Even though he understood he’d never be cured of alcoholism, Tom knew he no longer needed to hold on so tightly to the music arena. The joy he found in it as a kid had diminished to a spectator level and his attention moved to another way to show his artistic leanings. Photography was where he found himself returning time and again for personal fulfillment. Behind the camera, rather than a drum kit, was where he felt at home. The late nights at the club were taking away too much time and energy from him, and ensured his creativity was too exhausted to produce anything of quality.
Reaching out for his glass of water, he tried again to pay attention to what was in front of him, and carefully wrote figures in the appropriate columns. The burst of concentration was short lived. He couldn’t hold back the sigh that came directly from his heart and mind. Sitting back, he lifted his forearm and looked at his latest tattoo. He had other lusty looking non-specific women inked on his body, but this particular one resembled his first photo sold, and represented the path he wanted to travel. He cracked a smile. There it was. Finally, everything inside him had finally come together and Tom found himself in a place to accept the answer he’d been expecting to ease his current apathy. It was time to step away from the security the club offered and go after what he wanted.
He’d talked about it, even made a couple of half-hearted attempts to cut the cord, only it hadn’t been enough. Maybe, like with booze, he was a cold turkey kind of guy. Only after he walked away from the day-to-day would the separation actually be final. It looked like he was going to have to put someone else in charge, maybe he’d even sell it to them, and then he could work on becoming a professional photographer.
With the monumental decision still fluttering through his mind, he put his feet up on the desk, and looked at the wall across from him at the photo of his old band and the kid he’d been. He felt both sadness and excitement over the change of course he’d settled on. At thirty years old, there was so much he wanted to do, and experience. It was time to cut the past loose and move on.
A wicked thought passed through his mind as he closed his eyes. There was, however, a down side to leaving The Fickle Pickle behind. There’d probably be less opportunity for him to indulge in some prime pussy without any strings attached. Actually, if he thought about his sex life, he’d have to admit it had been a while since he’d partaken in what was offered so freely downstairs. Recently, he’d noticed his preferences in partners had moved away from what he considered traditional fair, and leaned more towards another type of woman.
He knew exactly when the shift had started. It was almost a year ago when he’d been hired by a local latex lovers’ sex club to do some private commission work. The girls had been dressed up to resemble 1950’s pin-ups and he’d found the entire shoot one big turn on. The higher the heel and curvier the figure, the harder his dick had been, but he kept the shoot purely professional. After the client had voiced their satisfaction and used the photos in a few magazines, he’d been offered a couple of private and magazine jobs for bondage babes. With a half dozen shoots under his belt, and when he was off the clock, he’d eventually given into temptation and gave the scene a try.
Having now dabbled down in the dungeon, so to speak, he wasn’t in any hurry to leave.
Women had always been a weak point for him and he was fine with that. It was natural to have sex, in anyway pleasurable, as long as everyone was a willing participant. He was lucky that early with the band, his father had taught him one important lesson that he never forgot, even during his more wasted moments, which was a surprise. The message had been simple, always wear a condom, and he had, without question.
There was one particular thing he wanted once he left The Fickle Pickle and music behind him and that was a real relationship. Commitment wasn’t a problem for him, nor was being vulnerable to another. The only reason it hadn’t happened yet was because the time hadn’t been right. Girlfriends hadn’t been possible as a member of The Newts, mainly because they’d gotten as much unattached pussy as they’d wanted. They knew that anything else meant tears and drama, two things none of them sought. After that, he’d been intent on making his club a success, and had been content to play around without being emotionally involved to one particular lady.
Other than his mother, he never shared his world with another woman, and wasn’t entirely sure he could do it. However, he wanted to be faithful to one woman, to love and share life with her, both the good and the bad. All he had to do was go out there and look for his other half. To feel complete he needed to share everything with another soul like him, preferably someone who understood him, and wanted the same things from life that he did.
The phone rang, immediately pulling him out of his daydreams.
“Hey boss, we need help down here. The late shift bartender, one of the dancers, and two waitresses never showed, and we’re packed tonight.”
“Gotcha Rod, be right down.”
Closing the books he’d been working on, Tom put everything back into the drawer, and locked it. He stood up and made his way to the door and downstairs. As he stomped down the back steps, he couldn’t help but notice how his footsteps felt lighter now that he’d made and accepted his decision. It was the right time to make a change, he thought as he moved through the crowded bar area.
“Where do you need me?” He smiled at his friend and head bartender, giving him the benefit of knowing where he’d be most useful.
* * * * *
“Do you see what I mean? After some second guessing, he finally settled on his own path.” The little blonde sat on his desk, legs crossed, chin propped in her hand, watching the screen with adoration clearly written across her face. “Isn’t it wonderful how far he’s come in building himself back up? Isn’t he an amazing man?”
“Annie, do you have feelings for him?”
“I’ve been his personal guardian angel for almost three years now. I know everything there is to know about him. Of course I care about him.”
Spoken with a calm voice, only she’d ended with a lovesick sigh, so he didn’t believe what she was experiencing was as simple as care. He noticed she still hadn’t looked away from the screen and the man busing tables in his noisy club. Looking at her closely, he knew there was going to be trouble, when he saw how the lower points of her white feathered wings were entwined, twittering with excitement.
“Oh dear. I mean, we need to, oh dear.” God fell back in his chair and suddenly felt old. He rubbed his hands over his face then leaned forward, putting his elbows on the desk, and looked again at the delicate wings of the young lady perched on the edge of his desk.
She was so full of life, but when he’d opened his gates to her, she’d been a tiny little toddler. At almost four years old, she’d been shot while sleeping in her stroller during an armed robbery of a bank. When she’d been carried into his office, all he saw were the big light blue eyes and a shock of soft curly white blonde hair making her look even more like a cherub than most who held the job. Even at such a young age, she’d been full of energy and love, and ready for life.
“Sorry, sir, what did you say?” She finally turned around from the screen and gave him her full attention.
“I meant,” he cleared his throat, “physical feelings.” He definitely wasn’t prepared to have the talk about birds and bees. It wasn’t his forte and hoped someone else had taken care of it.
“Ah, I see what you’re asking. Yes, I do. Whenever I am with him, I get tingly all over. Especially down—”
“Whoa, okay, you can stop right there. I get the idea.”
“Actually, I’ve been meaning to have a talk with you about something serious, and I guess now is as good a time as any. I wondered how you’d feel about me, um maybe, heading down to the surface as a, um…”
“As a what Annie? As a living, breathing, person?” She wasn’t the first angel or resident of Heaven to want to go back to live as they once had, nor would she likely be the last. Unfortunately, rules were rules.
“Yes sir, as the woman I would have been if I hadn’t died.”
“That’s not possible. You were so young, we don’t know what kind of person you would’ve grown to be.”
“Then as I am now, just, well, I don’t know, down there. I guess what I want is a chance to live the life I never had. Have an opportunity to be with him. If he wants me, that is. For as long as he wants.”
“Do you know what you’re asking me?”
“For some time I’ve thought of nothing else except being his.”
“Why? What is it you’re looking for that you can’t find up here?”
“Love, a man’s love,” she looked over her shoulder at the screen where Tom Baker was tending bar. “His love.”
“You’re loved here.”
“Yes, but his would be different, special.” She turned back to look at him and he realized how much she’d changed. Little Annie had grown up to be a beautiful, caring, woman.
“Everyone, including you, knows I said no more vacations or retirements after Lucifer left a few months ago. Why should I make a special allowance for you?”
“I don’t want a vacation or to retire, I want the life I never had a chance to live.” She’d whispered the words to him while looking back over her shoulder at the man she wanted. In the screen’s reflection, he saw exactly how important the request was to her. Annie wasn’t being trivial, what she was asking of him meant a great deal to her. God didn’t blame her for wanting something as extraordinary as a life and everything that goes with it.
“Did you know you were the first toddler we’d had arrive at our gates in decades? Normally children go directly up to another place, one that is full of peace, and plenty of people to care for them. A place where they never grow beyond the age they were when they arrived. That said, we all knew you were special, except not why you were brought here. Everyone took some role in raising you, loving you, and wants only the best for you. Maybe this is why you were sent to us rather than the other place.”
He reached out, took her hands in his, and looked at how delicate they appeared against his bigger ones. The answer was right there, in his heart, and he knew it was the right one. All he needed to do was be sure she understood the conditions attached.
“Really?” She screamed with joy and then immediately changed gears to be sober. “What about the others I watch over? Will you find another guardian angel who will match with them as well as I do? There’s Susie Kachner who is someone that needs to be guarded very closely. Her husband came close to killing her the last time, wait, how selfish am I being? I shouldn’t go. All of my people are so important and when their lives are compared to my dreams and wishes, there is no match.”
“I will ensure they are placed in the right hands.” The selfless attitude she revealed sealed her fate.
“Oh man, really? I’m going to live on the surface!”
Jumping off the desk she ran around it and gave him a hug. It took some time, but he eventually managed to settle her down so he could finish their discussion.
“Now listen to me, Annie, this is important. There are conditions you must fulfill in order to stay down there.”
She was full of smiles, happy with the opportunity he was offering. At the same time he could see she was listening intently to what he had to say.
“Two months is all the time you have to determine if the path you have voiced today is the one you really want. If, at any point, you aren’t sure of what you’re doing, we pull you back up here. While you’re on the surface you must find a job, fully participate in life on the surface, and also figure out if you truly love him, not just lust after him.”
“I know I love him.”
“You know you like what he does with his women.” A red flush rushed across his face as he referred to the other man’s sex life to a woman he practically raised. It may be embarrassing, but there was no time to shrink away from reality, even if it was kinky. “Remember, there’s no judgment in how people choose to physically express their love, as long as they’re being honest with their feelings.”
“Thank you.” While he was sure she knew how it worked, he needed her to hear it from him.
“There’s one last thing, Annie, and it’s important. He must tell you he loves you before you confess your feelings to him and it must be a true declaration.”
“He will.” Ann went to her knees and placed her head in his lap. “I know I’m what he’s looking for. I won’t disappoint you.”
“No, you could never let me down. I’m proud of you and the young woman you’ve become.”
“Being given a chance to live means everything to me.”
“Then I hope you find all you want down there.”
Silence surrounded them both and the mood turned solemn as she realized what needed to happen for her to spend time truly living.
“I’m never coming back here am I?”
It was the most difficult question she’d ever asked him. How did he tell her she’d only be coming back here if the man she loved turned out to be less than she thought he was? The coward in him was thrilled when she figured something else out.
“Wait, and my wings? They’ll be gone as well, won’t they?” He watched as the delicate appendages fluttered nervously around her, embracing her as if they didn’t want to leave her alone, before they laid flat against her back in submission of what was about to happen. Without knowing what she did, he could see her fingers gently stroked over a delicate edge of the lower feathers. There was love in her for them that was palatable.
“Yes, they must stay here. You won’t need them on the surface.” God was feeling tears gather behind his eyes. It saddened him to see his little Annie leave Heaven, even though he knew, ultimately, it was the right thing to do. “Come on, let’s go get something to eat, and I’ll tell you all about how to fit in on the surface.”
“I’ve seen some things, especially the town Tom lives and works in, but there is so much I don’t understand, and need your help on. Like clothes…”
She jumped up and started to leave his office, smiling at him over her shoulder. As he stood up to leave, he took one last look at the screen and saw Tom Baker, flirting with a female customer as he made drinks. The man was as faithful as an alley cat, liked to tie his women up and have his way with them, and had been through some serious addictions. His body was covered in tattoos and yet, he had to admit the man was a good egg. However, God wondered if he really was their sweet Annie’s mate?