An Angel's Advice

An Orchard Hill Romance

 A mini-sequel to Considering Lily

Back to Orchard Hill

Lily sat on a bench in the Bay Park Square mall in Green Bay watching the Christmas shoppers go by.  Thanksgiving had passed and the holiday shopping season had officially been launched.  She checked her watch.  What was taking Ian so long?  They agreed to meet here fifteen minutes ago.

He'd probably stopped in an electronics store and gotten caught up in some football game.  Ian wasn't much of a shopper.  She couldn't believe he was taking this long.

Restless, she checked through her bags one more time, making sure she had presents for everyone.  It was the first time in a long time she'd really felt like celebrating Christmas and she didn't want to leave anyone out.

Last year she had barely mustered enough holiday spirit to decorate her beauty shop.  She did her shopping from a mail order catalog and only bought one gift - for her mother.  This year she felt so drastically different, it was almost as if she'd become another person.

She'd been depressed and miserable, still hurting over her foolish choice in marriage and the divorce that resulted from it.  Then her friend Grace had insisted on dragging her to the New Year's Dance...

Grace had danced with her longtime friend Riley O'Neil.  Now the two were engaged.  Lily had danced with Riley's brother Ian - but only because she didn't want to sit there alone while everyone else danced.  That dance was the beginning of a journey that led her out of her despair and back into the land of the living.  Grace was a true friend.  She'd never given up on Lily.  And Ian had turned out to be a true friend as well in spite of Lily's attempts to drive him away.  They'd been dating since last spring.

"Are you ready?"

That was typical Ian.  He probably had no idea he was even late.

Lily smiled up at him.  Sitting, he towered over her.  "Yes, I'm ready."

"Good.  I've had enough of this place.  Let's go."

"You're the one who took so long," she teased.  "I've been waiting here for forever."

"Yeah.  Sorry about that.  I got hung up at the jewelry store."

Jewelry store?  Lily's heartbeat picked up just a little.  Although she'd told Ian she wanted to go slow with their relationship, she was head over heels in love and she'd marry him tomorrow if he asked.  Would he ask?

"I ordered a new watch for my mother and I wanted to have it engraved.  You wouldn't believe how busy it was in that place."

Her heart sank.  Of course Ian hadn't been looking at rings.  And how could she blame him after the lectures she'd given him about not rushing things.  She'd be lucky if he proposed to her before they both retired.

Ian took her hand and forged a path for her through the crowds.  Following along, Lily thought about how Ian always made her feel secure - and cherished.  She'd married her first husband before she'd really got to know him.  Even though she and Ian had been dating less than a year, she felt like she knew him better than she knew Ted after several years of marriage.

For one thing, Ian had a huge family and most of them lived in Orchard Hill or nearby.  They took any excuse for a family gathering.  During time spent with Ian's relatives she'd found out quite a bit about Ian - some of which she was sure he'd rather she didn't know.

Then there was the fact that she and Ian actually spent a lot of time talking.  When she and Ted were dating, there had been a lot of talking.  But he'd done all the talking and expected her to do all the listening.

It was dark when they stepped out of the mall and into the parking lot.  Snowflakes swirled around them and the wind was sharp.

"Do you want to stop for something to eat?" Ian asked, taking her packages and transferring them to the back of his SUV.  Ian was a veterinarian and often had to drive out to farms and fields to see some of his larger clients.  The SUV was a necessity, not a status symbol, for him.

"No," Lily replied.  "The weather doesn't look good.  Why don't we go back to Orchard Hill and pick up a pizza or something?"

"Sounds good."  Ian closed the hatch on the SUV.  "Let's go."

The snow and wind both increased as they drove out of the city.  Drifts of snow began to accumulate and visibility lessened.

Lily turned up the heat.  "Wow, this came  up fast."

He didn't reply.  All his attention was focused on the road.  It turned out to be a good thing that he was concentrating so completely on his driving.  When they came around a sharp curve they were suddenly confronted with shadowy shapes and glaring lights on the road.  An accident scene.  A small car had collided with a big pickup truck and the car had definitely gotten the worst of it.

Lily gasped.  Ian carefully pulled over to the side of the road and stopped.  "Stay here," he told her and slipped out of the SUV, leaving her to question whether she should be touched by his protectiveness or angry at him for issuing orders.  She shrugged and decided to go with touched.

Not that this meant she was going to follow orders from him.  She opened her door and stepped out into ankle-deep snow.  Brrrr!  Lily rounded the SUV and stopped in astonishment.

Ian was talking to Santa Claus.  And if she wasn't mistaken, a shepherd and an angel were standing next to him.  The angel's tinsel halo must have been tightly fastened to her head for it to stay on in all this wind, but if she had wings they were hidden by her coat.

Lily decided she absolutely had to know what was going on.  When she joined their little circle, Ian put his arm around her and pulled her to his side.  "I thought I told you to stay in the car," he whispered.

"Yeah, you did.  So what?"

Ian rolled his eyes but didn't say anything else or even seem annoyed with her.  One of the things she loved about him was that she knew he watched out for her, but he never tried to stop her from doing something "for her own good."  She snuggled a little closer to Ian and focused on what Santa was saying.

"And then my car started to slide," the man in the red suit explained.  "I crossed over the median and into their truck." He addressed his next statement to the angel and the shepherd.  "I'm sorry.  I couldn't help it.  I'm glad you weren't hurt."

"We weren't hurt," replied the shepherd "but we haven't checked on the animals yet."

"Animals?" asked Ian.  "You have animals in the trailer?"

Peering through the snow and the darkness, Lily noticed a long trailer hitched to the truck.

"Yes.  We had just finished with the Live Nativity Scene in Orchard Hill..."

"I'd just finished working at the mall and was headed back this way," Santa chimed in.

Well that explained things a bit.

"I'm a veterinarian," Ian announced.  "I'd be glad to check the animals for you."  He turned to her.  "Lily, will you get my stuff?"

"Sure."  She carefully made her way back over the slippery road.  She took a large metal box, much like a tackle box or a tool box from the back of the SUV.  She needed two hands to lift it.  Santa came over and took it from her.

"Thank you," she told him.

"No problem.  It looks a mite too heavy for a little lady like you."

"This isn't a great way for you to end the evening," Lily said.

"No, but it was very nice of you and your husband to stop and help us.  I had my cell phone so I called 9-1-1 right away, but I guess it takes a while for anyone to get out this far."

"You're welcome, but Ian and I aren't married.  We're just dating."

Santa looked surprised.  "Really?  You sure seem like a married couple.  Maybe you will be soon."

Lily offered him a small smile.  "I doubt it.  We're taking things slow."

"I wish I'd thought of that when I went around that curve," he mumbled.  Then his face brightened.  "But if I had, I'd never have met all you nice folks.  The shepherd and the angel were certainly very gracious about me smashing into their car.

They handed the metal box off to Ian.  He was already in the trailer, examining a sheep.  A donkey and a couple more sheep waited their turns.  None appeared to be seriously injured, Lily thought.

"Do you need any help?" asked Lily.  She had been volunteering at the animal shelter over the last few months.  That should at least qualify her to hold an animal while Ian examined it.

"The animals know me," the shepherd replied.  "I'll help."

The angel appeared beside Lily and Santa as they stood peering into the trailer.  She was carrying a large thermos and some mismatched tin mugs.  "How about some coffee?" she asked.

Lily and Santa both accepted her offer.  "Thank you," said Lily holding her hands around the mug to warm up.

"It was so nice of you and your husband to stop and offer help," the woman replied.  "It's the least I can do."

She switched her smile to the older gentleman.  "And who would be foolish enough to refuse hospitality to Santa?"

He held his mug up in a salute.  "You are definitely too kind."

"The roads are bad.  The accident wasn't your fault."

"I wish I'd been more cautious," Santa replied.  "Then maybe this wouldn't have happened."

"I wish my husband had listened to me when I told him we should stay with friends in Orchard Hill tonight."  She rolled her eyes and nudged Lily in the side.  "But you know what husbands are like - stubborn."

In Lily's experience husbands were demanding, critical, controlling....but that wasn't the point.  "Ian's not my husband.  We're just dating."

Before the angel could respond, a county sheriff's car pulled up and an officer exited.  He looked from Santa to Lily to the angel.  "This has got to be a good one," he mumbled not quite softly enought.

Santa came forward and answered his questions.  Lily heard him give his real name as Leonard Stutz, but preferred to continue thinking of him as Santa.  Then the angel, whose name was Lisa, told the deputy her version of the story.  Finally he asked Lily what her part was in all of this.

Before she could answer, the shepherd came out of the trailer and announced that one of the sheep had a cut on its leg that needed to be stitched, but otherwise the animals seemed all right.

By this time the wind and cold had penetrated Lily's parka and woolen mittens.  Even the coffee couldn't keep her warm.  She shivered and hunched her shoulders against the wind.

"Ma'am, I'm asking everyone to return to their vehicles until we're finished here.  It's dangerous to have you all on the road.  Not to mention too cold," the deputy told her.

He escorted her back to the SUV and opened the passenger door for her.  "I talked to your husband.  He should be finished soon."

She opened her mouth to protest that Ian wasn't her husband but the deputy had already shut the door and was walking away.  What was with everyone tonight, assuming that they were married just because they were together?

Lily leaned back and closed her eyes.  She was glad that they'd come on the scene so that Ian could help.  Now she added her own prayers for the people and animals involved.

There was a knock at the window.  Opening her eyes, she saw the angel, Lisa, standing outside.  "Do you mind if I sit with you?  I'm bored by myself."

Lily opened the door and scooted over to the driver's seat.

"Thanks."  Lisa got in and closed the door.  "I think we'll be on our way soon.  Santa will have to wait for the tow truck.  Too bad he didn't bring his reindeer tonight."

Lily giggled at the joke, the asked "How far do you have to go before you get home?"

"Not too far.  We have a farm over by Redemption.  Where are you going?"

"Just to Orchard Hill.  We're almost home."

"I wish we were.  How long have you and Ian been dating?"

"A little over six months."

"Dan and I have been married for twenty-seven years!  Our kids are all gone and suddenly we didn't have enough to do with ourselves.  We started doing the live nativities a couple of years ago.  It's fun and it keeps Dan out of trouble."

Lily couldn't help asking "What do you do the rest of the year?"

"Make sure he has a nice long 'to do' list every day."

She wondered what it would be like to be married for so long.  It would be good, if you married the right person.  "May I ask you a personal question?"

"Sure honey.  There isn't any reason to stand on ceremony in a situation like this."

"Are you still in love with your husband."

Lisa laughed, a hearty and somehow comforting sound.  "Yes, I am and I don't mind telling everyone so.  You can't embarrass me with that one."

"How did you know you wanted to marry him?" asked Lily.

"Hmmm.  I guess if I had to narrow it down to one thing, I'd say it was the way he treated his grandmother."

"What?"

"Back when we were dating, his grandmother was elderly and used a walker.  He always took such great care of her, making sure her way was unobstructed, helping to seat her.  It was quite touching.  And I thought to myself, if this is how a man treats his grandmother, how will he treat a wife?  Pretty good I guessed."

"And were you right?"

"Oh, definitely.  If you want to know a person's true character watch how they treat those weaker or less fortunate then them when no one else is looking."

Lily thought about that.  It sounded wise to her.

"Did that answer your question, honey?" asked Lisa.

"Yes.  But I don't suppose it will make any difference.  When Ian and I first started dating I made such a point out of telling him that I wanted our relationship to go slow and that we needed to really get to know each other before I'd think of making any sort of commitment."

"Bad experience before him I take it."

Lily nodded.  "But now I can hardly complain if I don't get a proposal before we're both old and grey."

The woman shrugged.  "So what?  Propose to him."

"What?"  Lily felt her mouth drop open.  "Are you serious?"

"Why not?  If he's staying silent to honor your wishes, and you're not saying anything because it's the man's job to propose, that leaves you both in the same place - out of luck."

Lily jumped as she heard Ian's heavy metal box drop with a crash into the cargo area.

"I guess it's time to go," said Lisa.  "It was nice to meet you, Lily.  Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas to you, too."  As Lisa exited, Lily slid back over to the passenger's seat.  A few seconds later Ian got in.

"Sorry to make you wait.  Are you all right?  Did you get chilled?"

He really did look worried about her.  Impulsively, Lily leaned over and kissed his cheek.  "No, I'm fine.  I'm glad you were here to help the animals."

A smile lit up his face.  "If that's the response I get, I'll have to remember to be helpful more often."

The roads had gotten worse since they'd stopped.  Lily said little for the rest of the way home so that Ian could keep his full attention on driving.  Her full attention was on the angel's advice.    When they reached Lily's apartment, Ian helped her carry her bags up but didn't stay as they'd originally planned.  "I'd better get home and make sure George is all right."  George was his dog.

"You didn't leave him in his kennel, did you?" she asked, alarmed.

"Of course not.  But we've been gone a long time.  Snowstorm or not, he needs to go out.  Sorry about the pizza."

"That's all right.  You'd better get home."

Ian kissed her, much too quickly but it would be selfish to try to keep him here longer, so she didn't protest.

"Remember," he said in parting "Tomorrow is St. Nicholas Day.  Dinner at my Mom's so she can give the grandkids their stockings."  In their area people celebrated St. Nicholas came on the night before his feast day to fill the children's stockings with gifts.

"Oh, yes.  What time?"

"Yes, I'll come over around ten and we can spend some time together before we go to Mom's."

"Sounds good.  Drive carefully.  I love you."

He'd closed the door before she'd gotten the last words out but Lily didn't worry.  Ian knew she loved him.

Her cat, Maria had begun to inspect her bags so she turned her attention to getting her Christmas gifts put safely away.  As she stashed her presents an idea began to form in her mind.

*

The next morning, Ian got up extra early.  Besides feeding his pets, George and guinea pigs, he had snow to clear away before he could pick up Lily. He wanted to have some quiet time alone with her before the holidays started and they were surrounded by family.

It hadn't been easy getting Lily to open her heart enough so that they could become friends, and now sweethearts, but it had been worth it.  Beneath her prickly exterior was a warm and loving heart.  She'd been badly wounded by her first husband's emotional and verbal abuse, but as she slowly learned to trust and open up to him, Ian was constantly amazed by this woman.  She was smart, independent, fun and compassionate.  He fell more deeply in love with her every day.

At the mall, he'd spent a long time in the jewelry department looking at engagement rings.  He knew he wanted to marry Lily, but in the end, he'd decided not to buy one.  He didn't think she was ready yet to make that kind of commitment and rushing her would only cause her to shut him out again.  That was the last thing he wanted.

He could wait, Ian told himself.  Lily would be worth it.

His dog, George, loved the snow and wasn't willing to go in when Ian wanted him to.  Although George was usually extremely well behaved, he had his moments and this was one of them.  By the time Ian had finally wrestled him into the house, he was running late.

"Thanks a lot, pal," Ian muttered to him.  Oblivious to the distress he'd caused his owner, George thumped his tail on the kitchen floor, sending a spray of snow across the room.  Ian banished him to the laundry room until he'd dried off a bit and then went to take a shower.

An extra quick shower got him back on track and he arrived at Lily's with time to spare.  Fortunately there were no animals staying in the kennel at his clinic so he didn't have to stop there today.

"Come in," Lily called in answer to his knock.

The room was empty when he walked in.

"I'm almost ready."  Her voice came from the vicinity of her bedroom.  "There's coffee in the kitchen if you want some."

"All right.  I'll pour some for you, too," he yelled back.  Lily's cat, Maria rubbed against his leg and purred.  he paused to stroke her and then continued on to the kitchen.

Ian got two mugs out and filled them from the coffeemaker.  He carried the steaming mugs into the living room where they could sit together on the couch and talk.

There was a stocking, bulging with gifts, on the coffee table.  Ian's first thought was that Lily had filled it for one of his nieces or nephews.  But common sense told him she wouldn't buy presents for one and leave the others out.  Setting the mugs down, he picked the stocking up to examine it more closely.

He found his name had been written on it with glitter glue.  Lily had filled a stocking for him?  He was surprised and pleased, even though gifts in stockings were supposed to be for children.

Ian peered inside. 

There was a candy cane poking its crook above the edge of the stocking.  Next, a large orange, and then - socks?  She'd definitely gotten that idea from his mother.  At least she hadn't told Lily to buy him new boxers.  He was sure his mother would save those for the family gift opening.  She could never understand why her children would prefer not to open those types of gifts in front of everyone.

Below the socks were a bundle of the pens that he liked for work and then some candy bars.  That was it.  No, wait, there was something in the toe of the stocking.

Reaching down to the bottom, Ian's hand closed on a small, round object.  He pulled it out and saw that it was a glass tree ornament.

He felt a bit disappointed.  As a bachelor, he didn't bother with a tree of his own.  He figured he could enjoy the tree at his parents' house and not have to worry about George knocking it over with a sweep of his mighty tail.

Holding the ornament up, he realized there was something written on it in the same glitter glue as his name on the stocking.  He found the beginning and then, turning the bulb as he went, he read "Ian, will you marry me?  Lily."

His breath caught in his throat and his hand tightened around the fragile ornament.  When he realized what he was doing he relaxed his grip, for fear he'd break it.

He heard Lily come up behind him.  She sat next to him on the couch.  He stared at the ornament, still too shocked to say anything.

Lily didn't say anything either.  She just sat and waited for his reaction.

After a few more moments, Ian felt himself begin to breathe again.  He turned to Lily and asked "Are you serious?"

She nodded.  "Unless you'd rather I wasn't.  Then I'll just smash the ball and we'll forget about it."  She picked up a heavy snow globe that was sitting on the coffee table.

Ian quickly pulled the ornament out of her reach.  "No.  I mean yes.  No, I mean...I mean, no don't smash the ball.  Yes, I'll marry you."

"Really, Ian?  Because I don't want to be pushy, but I thought maybe you were waiting for me to be ready.  And I am.  I'm ready for this."

"That's good."  Knowing he'd want to remember everything about this moment, he gazed intently at her, memorizing the anxious lines in her face and the love in her eyes.  "Because I'm ready, too.  I love you, Lily, and I want us to be together for the rest of our lives."

Pulling her closer, he kissed her, hoping he it would communicate to her all that was in his heart.  Lily wound her arms around his neck and kissed him back with equal passion.  He was breathless when they finally broke apart.

"I love you too, Ian," Lily told him.  "Thank you for not being offended because I proposed to you."

How could she even think that, he wondered.  "Offended?  I'm thrilled.  I've wanted to ask you for a while, but..."

"But I made such a big deal about taking things slow," she finished for him.  "I didn't want to make another mistake, but I'm certain that you aren't a mistake Ian."

His heart swelled with happiness to hear her say that.  "Good.  I wanted to wait until you were certain.  Only I couldn't tell when that was."

"It's now Ian.  Actually, I would never have been brave enough to ask you, except..."

"Except what?"

Lily smiled.  "Except I got some good advice from an angel."

"An angel?  What?  No, never mind.  You can tell me later.  What are you doing today?"  Excitement bubbled inside him.  He couldn't believe this was happening.

"Going to your mom's house with you, remember?"

"Oh yeah.  I think we should call and tell her we'll be late."

Lily frowned.  "She'll be so disappointed."

"She'll forgive us when she finds out why we're going to be late.  I want to go back to the mall.  I found the perfect ring at the jewelry store yesterday, but I'd like your approval before I buy it."

She gave a squeal of delight, and lunging forward, pulled Ian into a fierce hug.  Ian held the ornament at arm's length.  He feared it was still in danger of being smashed, and he didn't want that.  He had a feeling this ornament would be a family heirloom someday - one that they could share with their children.

Holding Lily off for a moment, Ian set the ornament back in the stocking, so it couldn't roll off the table.  Reassured that it was safe, he turned his full attention to kissing his fiancee.