=== Daniel’s First Sighting === It started with a shiver.
Daniel woke up cold that morning: teeth chattering and goose bumps raised along his arms. He lay shivering under his blankets though he knew it was going to be humid and nearly ninety degrees as soon as he stepped outside.
That was the first sign.
When he rose from his dorm room bed at Sword and Cross and looked at his reflection in the mirror, his eyes were glazed over with violet.
The second sign.
Something was about to happen.
Maybe he should have seen it coming. Of course, it had to do with Lucinda-the penetrating chill and the glowing violet in his eyes-but it was always only temporary. Some days Daniel was just cold. He’d come to think that days like this were just when she needed him a little more than usual. When she felt some emptiness deep in her chest but could not explain its root. This life’s Lucinda, wherever she lived, whatever she filled her days doing, whoever mattered to her most she didn’t yet know who Daniel Grigori was. She was seventeen and forty-four days old. His longest running success, her longest life. And he was going to keep it that way. It took all of Daniel’s might, every single day, but this time, he was going to let Lucinda live.
He dressed in the black-on-black uniform all the reform students were required to wear. Before he left the room, he added his black leather jacket and red knit scarf for extra warmth in his classes, the ones who would be sweating their black T-shirts. He put dark Sunglasses to hid the colour of his eyes. Most of the time, unless he had to make a show of eating in front of a mortal, Daniel skipped his meals. But he liked the feel of a hot drink sliding down his throat, warming his stomach, especially on a day like today when he was chilled like this. He headed for the cafeteria and got in line to buy a coffee. Almost all the other students moving through campus in pairs or larger cliques. Mortals-even the troubled, rebellious mortals who ending up at this reform school didn’t like to be alone. Recently Daniel had been noticing this more and more. They took solace connecting with other mortals. They found friendship, even love, not just in one other person, but in hundreds of others throughout the course of their lives. He couldn’t understand it. He used to have another half. Used to be part of a pair.
Once. No-many times, but it was always the same. Long ago and never again. It had cost them both too much. Thought there would never be anyone else for Daniel, he hoped-and feared-there could be someone else for her. He hadn’t made a single new friend since the day he’d arrived at Sword and Cross. He didn’t need to. Wouldn’t ever. They would only pale in comparison to what he used to have. Roland was enrolled at the school, albeit loosely, and Arraine and Molly, too. But of course, they didn’t count as friends. Arriane was something like a sister, and they both gave each other space. Roland was someone Daniel said a few words to sometimes, someone he did not mind. Molly he avoided. He knew she had to follow Daniel wherever he went, but her presence grated on him nonetheless. It didn’t really matter. He was busy just getting through on day at a time. Just making it from morning to night without breaking his vow to let her be. His black coffee steamed, warming his hands as he slid through the line of the other students and left the cafeteria. There was a desolate commons area outside Augustine, a grove of kudzu-strangled trees where the students stood around before the first bell rang. A group of girls turned to look at him and he could hear them whisper something. There were always girls whispering something, huddled together, eyeing him. They always faded into the background. One girl was walking by herself.
Walking toward him Merryweather or Pennyweather, Daniel wasn’t really sure. She had thick purple glasses, a mop of short, curly brown hair. When they crossed paths, nearly bumping into each other, she looked him up and down. But not in the same way most of the other girls did. She was looking at his clothes. It took him a moment to realize she was bundled in as many layers of clothing as he was. She was Hugging her arms around her chest. “Warm enough? He surprised himself by saying. Not sarcastically. “There’s that bug going around,” the girl said quickly, also surprised. “Don’t want to catch it.”
“No” he agreed. They had never spoken before. Something about Pennyweather or Merryweather stood out to daniel that morning. She was different from the other kids here, but he couldn’t say how. Was it just that she was nice? he was going to say something more, but she’d already shuffled away.
The rest of the students formed familiar patterns on the muddy lawn. There were five minutes left before the bell and nothing to do but drink his coffee and maybe go and talk to Roland, who was leaning up against the cinderblock walls of the building. And then, when the bell did ring, there would be nothing to do but go to class and pretend to learn the countless lessons Daniel already knew, had already learned from hundreds of years of schooling and thousands of years of living through the histories in any of these dreary books. And when class was over, school was over, his unexplained but unimportant tenure here with Sophia Bliss over, there would be nothing to do but roam the earth alone until the end of time looking for some way to tick off minutes, hours, millennia.
Suddenly Daniel felt so lonely he wanted to tilt his head back towards the sky and scream. Because what good was eternity without love?
“Daniel.” Roland signalled to him across the lawn.
Daniel composed himself, breathing deeply, shrugging his shoulders to relax his burning wings before he started walking.
“Brother.” “Gabbe’s here,” Roland said quietly. “Queen Bad Ass herself.” They weren’t looking at each other. They stood side by side, against the wall, gazing out at the rest of the students without seeing them.
“Does she have a message? “Daniel asked, because That would make sense.
Though she’d fallen after the war, Gabbe had been one of the first angels to return to the folds of heaven.
Very quickly, she’d gotten her status back and had been messaging again for some time. Daniel saw her occasionally: she’d deliver a message, and would then be on her way. Every once in a while, Daniel missed his old employment.
All angels fulfilled by their original purpose as messengers. But it had never felt like the only thing Daniel was meant to do. It was that sense-that maybe he was meant for something else-which was the root of all of Daniel’s trouble. “I don’t know about a message.” Roland said. There was a halt in his voice that Daniel didn’t trust. ”But she’s all primped and gussied up and ready to bust God knows whose skull. She just turned up this morning. Said Miss Sophia dragged her here.”
When Sophia Bliss found Daniel, and brought him to this school, she thought she’d been saving him. She talked of having cared for him always, since the war, and it hurt her to see just how far he had fallen. You can be a conscientious objector, Daniel, she’d said, but you can’t go around vandalizing shopping carts.
Daniel hadn’t cared enough to correct her, to say that all he was trying to do was pass the time. Skid Row in Los Angeles or some reform school in Georgia, it didn’t matter to him. Neither were places Luce would ever show up, so he wouldn’t have to worry about breaking his vow to stay out of her life completely. In the meanwhile, it had been almost interesting to help Sophia with some of her research. She was leading a commission on the Watchers-the old sect of Angels who’d been charged with loving mortal women. It was something Daniel knew a thing or two about. She read his book. Sometimes she’d come to him with questions. It passed the time.
It was not strange that Gabbe had shown up at Sword and Cross. Actually, it was expected. But it was strange that Sophia would have dragged her here. It didn’t sit right with Daniel and he shivered. “And that’s not all,” Roland said. “There’s something else. Or someone else, I guess I should say.” But Daniel already knew.
The sheen of gold was just becoming visible beyond the schoolyard, passing through the trees like morning mist. It looked pretty, but it wasn’t. Nothing could have been a darker signal. Cam was here.
Daniel’s eyes had not fallen on the demon yet, but his furled wings felt so hot they could have singed his clothes. His enemy was near enough that Daniel could taste the fight growing inside him. Bitter and metallic, rising in his throat.
The thing about Cam that was different from the rest of them was that he did nothing without express purpose. Daniel roamed the earth in lonely agony; and some of the others were able to see their expulsion from Heaven as an endless vacation. Not Cam. Cam was eternally strategic, always plotting, always gearing up for the next battle in the War. So, if he turned up at Sword and Cross, something was happening.
Really, it could only be one thing.
Daniel’s mouth felt dry. He turned to Roland. “How long have you known?”
Roland raised his eyebrows. For a moment, he looked scared. But then he shined it off with a broad smile. “Does that even matter?”
They say that when a mortal is about to die, his whole life flashes before his eyes. Daniel had no experience with this; he never would. But at that moment, it was as if he was seeing Lucinda’s life- no, all her lives, and all her deaths-in a single awful flash. Her original death, in the Beginning, the one that left him ill for a decade. The myriad deaths across centuries and continents when Daniel stupidly, carelessly surrendered to their fate, like a boy who’d never had his heart broken, loving her senselessly and letting her go each time. The recent deaths, when he was growing weary of the pain, when her death was on his mind for her whole life, when their love was always tainted by his sorrow that she didn’t understand. And finally: That most recent demise, the column of fire on the frozen lake seventeen years ago. The death that had caused Daniel to swear her off. When he’d told himself: No more
Now Cam was here and there was only one possible explanation. But what could Lucinda have done to end up at a place like Sword and Cross?
He’d been stupid to think it wasn’t possible. In each life, there were pairs of wings brushing them toward each other. He’d done everything to stay away from her this time. And still, it hadn’t been enough.
It was so terrible, so utterly demoralizing, that it was almost…funny. Daniel felt it shudder through him. A laugh.
It surprised him, that first small, sharp chuckle. But Then it grew into a deep and painful laugh that spread Through his limbs, taking over his whole body. He was Furious with everything, but trembling with laughter, and Still shivering from cold. “Daniel?” Roland looked concerned.
It only made Daniel laugh harder. Because everything was futile and he’d been so naïve. He couldn’t stop. He doubled over, gasping for air.
Now Roland started laughing too, nervously, as if he were waiting to see what Daniel was going to do next.
“Look at me, Daniel,” Roland said.
Daniel tried to pull himself together. He took off his glasses and slipped them into his pocket. But when he shifted his eyes to look at Roland, they fell on someone else Lucinda. There she was.
Yes, he had known this was going to happen. Had known Lucinda’s presence would slam into him like a freight train. Had known they would be pawns in Heaven’s game for yet another round, with all of the others gathered around like spectators. Had known she was there to fall in love with him, and he with her.
And still, none of that prepared Daniel for the moment he first saw her.
She was beautiful. Her hair was short. Her skin was white and smooth. Her clothes were simple, black. Her face was lovely, intoxicatingly sweet, flawless- And deeply, deeply pained.
He had never seen her look like that. Like she’d been through a war. But…she couldn’t possibly remember.
Could she? No, her expression carried the weight of something different. A new tragedy. What had she been though without him?
If he could run to her, he would. Catch her in his arms and twirl her around, consoling every sadness, every ache she’d ever felt. Pull her closer every second until they were so intertwined they could never let go. Press his lips to hers, that sweetest kiss, his great addiction.
She was smiling at him, a shy and wonderful smile that he was dying to return. But the smile would turn into the wave he already felt rising in his arm, which would lead to a step in her direction and send them tumbling towards the place Daniel had sworn he would not go.
His arm teetered in the air-
She was the love of his life. She was everything.
And he was cursed to destroy her.
There was nothing in the world to do but save her life and flip her off.
Before the Fire
Luce had an oil smear across her cheek and a gloppy brown stain near the hem of her T-shirt. Her white tennis shoes had turned a scuffed, scummy shade of grey. But she didn’t care; she hardly noticed. Getting up close and personal with a 1967 Alfa Romeo was a huge perk of her after-school job. Luce was in the zone.
She got a kind of Christmas-morning feeling when one of the few old cars in town rolled into the shop. The snug little Fiat convertible or the sputtering boat like Chevy Impala. So much cooler than the pristine late model Mustangs and 4Runners. Those were the jobs Luce dreaded: The ones whose insides looked more like computers than cars. The ones most likely to be brought in by one of the rich prep school kids enrolled with her at Dover.
And that sucked.
The boys from her precalc class ogled her in her grease-stained cut-offs, their expressions making her feel even dirtier than she already was. The girls who had the row of lockers across from hers all came into the shop together, looking so pristine and made-up with their lip gloss and mascara. They’d drop off their BMWs, then trot over to Jake’s for cigarettes while they waited. They didn’t stare at Luce the way the boys did. They didn’t see her at all.
But it was a small price to pay to get her hands on a couple of classic cars. Like the one she was working on today. Sure, the Alfa was a little rough around the edges. Its transmission had already been replaced twice and looked like it would need to be again. The air filter was on a fast track to corroded. Windows didn’t roll up.
But it was forty-plus years old. It must have been places and seen things Luce couldn’t even imagine. It had history and dignity, stories that could outshine anything the fancy new cars her classmates drove around would probably ever experience. Feeling a crick in her elbow and a deep sense of satisfaction, Luce tightened the drain plug on the Alfa’s cruddy oil pan, then wheeled herself out from under the car.
“You’re here late.”
The voice surprised her, though she didn’t know why it should. Mr. Pisani, Luce’s boss, practically lived in his shop. Actually, he did live upstairs, with his wife and three sons, in the apartment above the shop, but in the three years Luce had been working for him, trying to make some extra cash for spending money at Dover, she’d never even seen him go up there.
“I was just finishing,” Luce said, propping herself up on her elbows on the creeper.
Mr. Pisani extended his hand to help her up. His grip was strong, his forearm tan and burly. Even when his hands were freshly scrubbed, they still had grime in the creases. “Gonna miss your mug around here this summer. The boys. Me too.”
Luce felt the corners of her mouth pull up. For Mr. P., this was a lot of emotion. “I’ll be back in the fall,” she said, grabbing the least-dirty rag on the sawhorse table to wipe her hands. “If it were up to me, I’d stick around here all summer. But my parents want me back home. They miss me during the year.”
A series of thuds, followed by a few Italian expletives, sounded from the other side of the shop. Through the interior windows, Luce could see Mr. Pisani’s three sons wrestling each other in the lobby.
“Imagine that,” Mr. Pisani said, eyeing the window; his sons had disappeared from sight. He grimaced when he heard a loud, metallic crash. “Maybe your parents want a few more to miss during the year. Take these briccones down to Georgia with you this summer.”
Luce laughed. As the only child of two hard-to-rile-up parents, she found it tough to imagine the Pisani sons wrestling in her tranquil living room. Her parents had never had to deal with a horde of rambunctious boys. They had to deal with Luce, and the quieter, darker things that came with raising her.
Mr. Pisani patted her back and headed toward the lobby. “Don’t leave before saying goodbye, you hear? I’ll be in the office. Got receipts up to my ears.”
“Okay.” Luce gathered her few things from her cubby, pulling her sweatshirt out of her bag and tugging it on. Her phone was in the front middle pocket. It was blinking. A text from Callie with directions to Rachel Allison’s end-of-the-year party down by the lake.
Luce didn’t want to go. She’d never been to one of Rachel’s parties, but she imagined they were even more unbearable than the Monday-morning rumours always made them sound:
Rachel and Trevor broke up mid–hors d’oeuvres.
Rachel and Trevor were caught making up in the bedroom of her father’s sailboat.
Collin and Eli had a puking contest in the lake.
“But it’s the last night of the year,” Callie had pleaded from the shower stall next to Luce’s in the dorm bathroom that morning. “We gotta have a little fun.”
Rubbing the shampoo from her eyes, Luce had sputtered, “Precisely why we should not go to some lame prep school party.”
“Oh, come on. You-know-who will be there,” Callie sang. “Starts with a TR- and ends with your-obsession for–ever!”
Trevor Beckman. He had not been her obsession forever. Just the five hundred and forty days she’d been at this school. She couldn’t help it. Didn’t try to. Really tall and muscular, with that amazing sandy-coloured hair, Trevor was by far the hottest thing at Dover.
For the first few months of class—when Luce still had the drag of going to see Dr. Sanford, her shrink at Shady Hollows, three and sometimes four times a week after school—it would totally brighten her day just to see Trevor’s smile in the hallway. Not even smiling at her. That had only happened a handful of times, and usually made her more nervous than anything else.
No, she liked just seeing him smile from across the room, the way his eyes really seemed to twinkle. Like a dark thought had never crossed his gorgeous face.
Alone in the garage, Luce slipped her phone back into her bag, and Callie’s text to the back of her mind. She could barely ask Trevor to pass the scalpel during biology. Like she was going to be able to talk to him in the middle of his girlfriend’s party.
She was comfortable here, in the shop, with the Pisanis. Which was funny, because before she’d moved to New Hampshire to go to this school (to go to this therapist, really), Luce’s had less than no interest in cars. Sure, she’d hoped for one when she turned sixteen, but that was just to get away—any old thing would have done. Before she started working here, an oil change meant washing her hair for the first time in a few days. But now, sometimes this grimy garage felt more like home than anyplace else Luce knew.
She missed her parents, of course, but things were hard with them. Their whole home seemed to sag under the weight of Luce’s “struggles.” Their phrase, not hers. A phrase so vague Luce took it to mean her parents really didn’t want to know any of the details.
Maybe that wasn’t the case. Maybe they cared. Okay, she knew they cared. But it was care wrapped up so tightly with worry that it was impossible to talk about anything with her folks without Luce feeling like she was crazy. Sometimes it seemed like the only thing salvaging their relationship was the fact that she was away at boarding school for most of the year. When she was home, it was painfully obvious how much her parents worried about her.
And she didn’t have to deal with things like that at Mr. P.’s.
Just the three boys: Dominick, the shy youngest son who treated her like a princess; Frankie, the middle, always-in-and-out-of-love-with-an-older-woman son, who used Luce as his personal diary; and Joe, the oldest, who was as protective of her as the kid sister he’d never had. Luce loved them, all of them. She’d always wanted brothers. She loved Mr. Pisani, too, though he was nothing like her dad. Gruff and salty, but always teasing, Mr. Pisani and his sons made her feel comfortable. Normal, even. Luce didn’t like to think it was just because they hadn’t seen a certain side of her.
She shut off the lights in the garage and walked through the empty lobby to Mr. Pisani’s office. Time to say goodbye. She felt weird and sad, a little bit lonely, and something else she couldn’t quite name. All day the feeling had been nagging at her. She’d been extra-conscious of the shadows in the shop, but so far, nothing out of the ordinary. Probably just nerves about leaving.
Why hadn’t she realized it? Luce was all the way to the door of Mr. Pisani’s office when she remembered: the ritualistic summer send-off gift. The Pisanis did it every year. She groaned—but it was the kind of groan people made when they felt flattered, like a guy at a karaoke parlour who obliges all his friends begging him to sing one more song. Luce was smiling when she knocked on the door.
Sure enough, Mr. Pisani and his sons were all waiting for her in the office. No receipts up to anyone’s ears. Just Frankie, popping out from behind the door with a greasy rag to use as a blindfold.
“You guys.” Luce laughed. “You do not have to do this every year. I’ll be back in three months. I’ll—”
“Shhh,” all of them scolded her at once. Giggling and arguing among themselves in Italian, like they did every year, they tied the makeshift blindfold over her eyes— like they did every year—and led her to the back room for her annual surprise. When Luce said, she’d know her way around Pisani’s shop blindfolded, she wasn’t kidding. Experience had taught her not to expect too much. As sweet as the Pisani men were, they weren’t exactly skilled in the art of gift giving.
Her freshman year, they’d given her the world’s gaudiest pair of clip-on earrings—lifted no doubt from Mrs. Pisani’s trunk of costume jewellery: purple silk flowers the size of golf balls, with a cluster of dull jewels hanging by a silver thread. She’d considered pawning them off— there was a really tacky consignment shop down the street from her parents’ house—but when she got close to doing it, she found she couldn’t part with the unsightly things.
Her sophomore year, the Pisanis gave her an oversized mauve scarf knit by Grandma Pisani herself. Luce had actually worn it a few times, once it got cold again, until Collin Marks told her in biology that the scarf was the same colour as the fatal pig they were dissecting. Since Collin was friends with Trevor, and Trevor had laughed (just a little, under his breath), that was all it took to banish the scarf to the nether regions of her closet.
“Drumroll, please,” Dominick said in his soft accent now. They’d steered Luce to the doorway of the back room. Dutifully, she beat her palms against her thighs.
“Well, what do you think?” Mr. Pisani asked before they’d even fully untied the blindfold.
To most people, the sight before them would have looked like a heap of junk. Rusted metal, peeling paint, an exhaust pipe lying severed on the ground. But Luce saw the beauty in its potential.
This was a black 1989 Honda Triumph, beat to hell, but she’d seen Joe resurrect worse from the junkyard. She’d been drooling all year over the latest bike he’d fixed up.
“No. Way,” she gasped, falling on her knees before the old bike. “No way no way no way!”
“Way,” the Pisanis all said together, sounding pleased. “You like it?”
Dominick asked, showing white teeth behind his engine-grease-stained face.
“I mean, it needs a little work—”
“A little?” Mr. Pisani snorted.
“Pop,” Dominick said. “I told you I’m gonna fix it up this summer while she’s gone.”
“Put a little hair on his chest,” Mr. P. muttered to Luce.
Luce looked at Dominick, who dropped his head just a second too late to avoid being caught blushing.
“I can’t accept this,” she said, immediately wishing she’d resisted her annoying tendency to be polite and just shouted “Yes!”
“You can,” Mr. Pisani said softly. “You will. Come September, she’ll be so beautiful you won’t be able to resist.”
Luce ran her hand over the bike’s faded black seat. Rain and time had split it down the centre, and the foam core was busting out a little. But it gave the whole bike a cool, weathered look that Luce adored immediately and completely.
“It’s perfect,” she said, hopping on. “I couldn’t love anything more.”
“A girl like you needs a fast pair of wheels to fend off all those boys, eh?” Mr. Pisani grunted. “Are you staying for dinner or what? I smell Bolognese upstairs.”
“I can’t, I—”
“She’s a beautiful young girl, Pop,” Joe said. “What would she wanna hang around here all night for?” He turned to Luce, who actually would have loved to stay. But she’d already accepted too much from the Pisanis. “Come on,” Joe said. “I’ll walk you out.”
She hugged the rest of them and promised to call, and then Joe was following her out the front door. It was dusk and getting chilly. Luce was about to stick her hands in her pockets for warmth when Joe slipped a key into her palm.
“What’s this?” she asked.
But she knew. His bike. His golden 1986 Honda Shadow.
“I heard there’s some party tonight.” Joe smiled. “Don’t you need a ride out to the lake?” Then he tousled her hair and disappeared inside the shop before she could respond.
Her cell phone was buzzing again. Probably more persuasion from Callie about the party. Luce was alone in the quiet summer night, the key growing warm inside her fist. There was the feeling again. A strange tremor inside her, anxiety shifting slowly into something else.
She knew then that she was going to this party. She knew something was about to happen. Something big and important and unavoidable. Something hard to parse. She just didn’t know whether that something was going to be good or bad.
She headed toward the bike, jingling the keys in her hand. For a brief second before gunning the engine, she thought about finding Trevor at the party and asking him to go for a ride.
What Happened to Trevor
Luce eased the motorcycle to a stop in front of the lake house. She was in love. With the bike: It was a gold 1986 Honda Shadow, and it was beautiful.
Her classmate mad Rachel Allison, with her dyed red hair and immaculate French, had grown up and still lived just a few miles north of their school, Dover Prep. So, whenever Rachel's parents left town, most of their class, the in crowd, at least? turned out for the inevitable party.
This was Luce's first time. When she’d clocked out after her shift at Pisani's Bike and Body Shop, Luce had three texts from Callie: One with directions to the party. Another to let Luce know that Callie had borrowed her black flip-flops. And a third with a picture of Callie sipping a mai tai aboard one of Rachel's speedboats. But it was the voice mail? no, the voice in the background of the voice mail Callie Left, that convinced Luce to make an appearance.
And yet: He wanted Luce to hurry up and get there. Of course, Luce had a crush on Trevor. Who wouldn’t have a crush on Trevor? Tall and strong and always laughing, with dark brown hair that matched his eyes? everything about the guy was crushable.
But it was the kind of crush Luce never planned on actually doing anything about. She didn't go after guys. She never had. It drove Callie crazy, but Luce was perfectly comfortable admiring Trevor and his muscles from afar. Much more comfortable than she was going to be walking into this party. She cut the bike's engine and hopped off before anyone could see her and wonder how on earth she could afford a ride like that.
Luce couldn't afford it. She had it on loan for one night from the bike shop, where she'd been working part-time for the past six semesters just to be able to afford "incidentals" at Dover. Her room and board were covered, embarrassingly, by the school's one and only scholarship.
To preserve that scholarship, Luce had made it through three years of honours classes, keeping a straight-A average. Not to mention three years of keeping her weekly therapy sessions at Shady Pines a secret from everyone at school.
She probably would have made it through three years without ever going to one of Rachel's famous parties if it hadn't been for Mr. Pisani's son. Joe was a few years older than her. Sexy in a dark sort of way. He'd always looked out for Luce, ever since she started working at the shop. He also knew she coveted the bike he'd resurrected from a heap of scrap metal. Just before Luce left for the night, he slipped the key into her palm.
"I heard there's some party tonight." He smiled. "Don't you need a ride out to the lake?"
At first, Luce shook her head. She couldn't possibly. But then?
In three days, she'd fly home to spend the summer with her parents in Thunderbolt, Georgia, where things would be quiet and easy and comfortable. And boring. Three whole months of very, very boring.
"Have fun." Joe winked at Luce.
And then she rode off. The feeling of riding a motorcycle, of the wind coursing over her face, of the speed, the thrill of it all, was familiar and yet like nothing else in the world.
It made her feel like she was flying.
When she crossed the tiki-torch threshold of the party, Luce spotted Callie standing near the water, surrounded by a circle of guys. She was wearing a red bikini top, Luce’s flip-flops, and a long white sarong tied around her waist.
"Finally!" she squealed when she saw Luce. Callie's wet corkscrew curls bounced when she laughed. She must have just gone swimming, which Luce couldn't imagine doing in the cold, black lake beyond them. Callie was the kind of fearless that always found her way into a good time. She pulled Luce close and whispered, "Guess who just had the most gigantic fight?"
Trevor was walking toward them, holding a drink and wearing his basketball jersey and swim trunks.
Behind him, a few feet away, Rachel’s face was ablaze.
"Perfect timing," he said, smiling at Luce. His words came out a little slurred.
"Trevor!" Rachel bellowed. She looked very much like she wanted to trail after him, but she stood still, hands on her hips. "That's it. I'm telling the bartender you're cut off!"
Trevor stopped in front of Luce. "How 'bout a trip to the bar with me?"
Callie gave Luce's back a shove just before she disappeared, and Luce was alone with Trevor Beckman. Maybe she should have changed out of her greasy white T-shirt and cut-offs before showing up. Luce tugged at the elastic band to release the long braid she wore to work. She could feel Trevor's eyes on her dark, wavy hair, which flowed halfway down her back.
"A drink sounds good."
Trevor smiled, leading the way toward the bar. In the middle of the lawn, Rachel had gathered her minions around her. When Luce walked by with Trevor, Rachel tilted her head up and sniffed the air. "What smells like a gas station?"
"Eau de working class," answered Rachel's number two. Shawna Clip was just as mean as Rachel, but not as smart.
"Sorry," Trevor said, pulling Luce away. "They're such bitches."
Luce’s cheeks grew warm. She wasn’t affected by Rachel's insults, but it was embarrassing that Trevor thought she might be. He stared at her for a moment, then steered her right past the bar. "On second thought, Rachel's dad keeps the cabins stocked with booze, too." He grinned at her and nodded toward the woods, toward the place where the moonlit path led toward Lake Winnipesaukee. The tiki torches only went so far, and beyond that, there was just the big, black woods.
Luce faltered. The woods were one of the reasons she avoided these parties. For everyone else, the dark of night meant it was time to get crazy in a good way. For Luce, it was when the shadows came out.
The bad kind of crazy.
But this was her first time one-on-one with Trevor when they weren't holding a scalpel and breathing in formaldehyde. She was not going to blow it by being the freaky girl who couldn't go near the woods.
"Through there?" Luce swallowed.
He ran his thumb along her cheek. It made her shiver. "It's only dark until you get to the clearing, and I'll hold your hand the whole time."
It was as good an offer as anyone could make, but Luce would never be able to explain to Trevor why it wasn't really good enough. Why she felt like she was walking into a nightmare she might not be able to wake up from. If the shadows were in there, they would find her. They would brush up against her like black sheets of ice. But she couldn't tell him that.
The dark closed in around them as they walked. Luce could feel murky things in the trees above their heads, could hear faint whooshes in the branches, but kept her eyes on the ground.
Until something pinched at her shoulder. Something cold and sharp that made her Jump right into Trevor's arms.
"Nothing to be afraid of. See?"
Trevor started to turn her around, but Luce tugged on his hand.
"Let's just get to the cabin."
When they made it to the clearing, the moon came mercifully back into sight. A neat little row of cabins stood before them. Luce glanced at the woods but couldn't see the way back to the party. She thought she heard the whooshing shadow in the trees again. "Race you," she said.
They took off toward the first cabin, Trevor close on her heels, until both of them collapsed at the door. They were laughing and out of breath. Luce's heart raced from exertion and fear; and nervous anticipation about what they were doing so far away from everyone else.
Trevor reached into his pocket and pulled out a key.
The door creaked open and they stepped into the spare, clean cabin. There was a fireplace, a small kitchen, and a very prominently placed king sized bed. An hour ago, Luce never would have believed she'd be alone in a cabin with her crush of three whole years. She didn't do things like this. She'd never done anything like this in her life.
Trevor moved straight to the wet bar and started to pour something brown from a frosted glass bottle. When he handed her the small, half-full tumbler, she didn't even know enough not to take a giant swig.
"Whoa." He laughed when she gagged. "Finally, someone who needs a drink as badly as me."
If Luce hadn't still been reeling from the burning in her throat, she might have laughed and corrected his grammar, pointing out that what he meant to say was "someone who needs a drink as badly as I," instead of what he had said? Which meant she needed a drink as badly as she needed . . . him. He took her empty glass and wrapped an arm around her waist, drawing her so close that his body pressed up against hers. She could feel his muscular chest, the warmth of his skin.
"Rachel and I, we’re all wrong, you know?"
Oh God. She was supposed to feel bad about this, wasn't she? He was going to kiss her and she was going to kiss him back and that would mean that her first kiss was going to be with someone who had a girlfriend. A terrible witch of a girlfriend, but still. Luce did know that Trevor and Rachel were all wrong, but suddenly she also knew that Trevor was lying. Because he didn’t know that. He was only saying it so she'd fool around with him. Because probably he knew she adored him. Probably he'd caught her watching him countless times over the years. He must have felt pretty certain that she wanted him.
She wanted him, yes, but until now it had always been in a far-off fantasy kind of way. Up close, she had no idea what to do with him. Now his face hovered over hers and his lips weren't far away at all and his eyes looked different than they did in the yearbook picture Luce had gotten so used to.
And suddenly, she realized she didn't know him very well at all.
But she wanted to. At the very least, she wanted to know what it felt like to be kissed, really kissed, pushed up against a wall and kissed intensely, until she was dizzy, until she was so filled up with passion that there wasn't any room for shadows or dark woods or a visit to the sanatorium always hanging over her head.
"Luce? Are you okay?"
"Kiss me," she whispered.
It didn't feel quite right, but it was too late. Trevor's lips parted and came down on hers. She opened her mouth but found it hard to kiss him back.
Her tongue felt all tied up. She was struggling in his arms as if in a dream, trying not to fight the kiss, trying just to take it in and let it happen. Trevor's arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her to the bed. They sat down on the edge, still kissing. Her eyes were closed, but then she opened them.
Trevor was staring directly at her.
"What?" she asked nervously.
"Nothing. You’re just so . . . beautiful."
She didn't know what say to that, so she laughed.
Trevor started kissing her again, his lips wet against her mouth, then her neck. She waited for the spark, for the fireworks Callie had told her about. But everything about kissing was different than she'd expected. She wasn't sure how she felt about Trevor, his tongue on hers, his roving hands. But he seemed to know a lot more about this than she did. She tried to go with it.
She heard something and pulled away from Trevor to look around the room. "What was that?"
"What was what?" Trevor said, nibbling her earlobe.
Luce glanced at the panelled wooden walls, but they were empty of pictures or other decoration. She studied the fireplace, which was dark and still. For a second she thought she saw something; an ember, a flicker of yellow and red, but then it was gone.
"Are you sure we're alone?" she asked.
"Of course." Trevor's hands gripped the bottom of her shirt, inching it up and over her head. Before she could say anything, she was sitting on the bright blue comforter in just her bra. "Whoa," Trevor said, holding his hand over his eyes like he was staring into the sun.
"What?" Luce winced, feeling pale and a little embarrassed.
"Everything's so bright all of a sudden," Trevor said, blinking.
Luce thought she knew what he meant. Like something between them was lighting up the whole room. Was this the spark she'd been waiting for? She felt warm and alive, but also a little bit too aware of her body. And how exposed it was. It made her uncomfortable. When he leaned into her again, her insides felt like they were burning, like she'd swallowed something hot. Then the whole cabin warmed and grew way too light. It was getting hard to breathe, and she was suddenly, sharply dizzy, her vision burning bright like the blood was rushing from her head.
She couldn't see a thing. Trevor grabbed her waist, but she began to pull away. She heard noises again, and she was sure someone else was there in the cabin, but she couldn't see anyone, could only hear a growing racket, like the rasping of a thousand saws against a thousand metal sheets. She tried to move but felt like she was stuck, Trevor's arms tightening around her. They gripped her rib cage until she thought he might break her bones, until his skin felt like it was burning into her flesh, until?
Until he was gone.
Someone was shaking Luce's shoulders.
It was Shawna Clip. She was screaming.
"What did you do, Lucinda? "
Luce blinked and shook her head. She was sitting outside in the smoky black night. Her throat stung and her skin felt raw and freezing cold.
"Where's Trevor?" she could hear herself murmur. The wind whipped through her hair.
She reached up to brush the loose strands from her face and gasped when a whole lock of thick black hair seemed to slide right off her scalp. What landed in her palm was brittle and badly singed. She screamed. Luce stumbled to her feet. Crossed her arms over her chest and looked around. Still the cool, dark woods, still the sense of the hovering black shadows, still the neat row of cabins?
The cabins were on fire.
The cabin where she swore she'd just been with Trevor? had she? how far had they gone? what had happened? was now engulfed in flames. The cabins to the left and the right were just starting to catch fire from the blaze in the middle. The night air reeked of sulphur. The last thing she remembered was the kiss?
"What the hell did you do with my boyfriend?"
Rachel. She stood between Luce and the burning cabins, a bright red flush dotting her cheeks. The look in her eyes made Luce feel like a murderer. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Shawna pointed at Luce. "I followed her. I thought I would catch the two of them screwing around? she covered her face with her hands and sniffled "but they went inside, and then . . . The whole thing just exploded!"
Rachel's face and her body went slack as she swivelled back toward the cabin and began to wail. The awful sound rose up in the night.
It was only then that Luce realized, with a horrified clenching in her chest:
Trevor was still inside.
Then the roof of the cabin caved in, spitting out a plume of smoke. By then, the nearby cabins had really begun to burn, but Luce could feel a darkness hovering, huge and implacable. The shadows, once confined to the woods, now swirled directly above. So close she might have touched them. So close she could almost hear what they were whispering. It sounded like her name, Luce, a thousand times repeated, circling around her and then fading endlessly into some dark past.
Daniel in L.A.
When the sun went down on skid row in L.A., a city of tents rose up. One by one until the throng of them got so thick you could barely drive a car down the street. Just a bunch of tattered nylon tents ripped off the back of a Walmart truck. And the other tents made out of nothing but a bedsheet thrown over a plank wedged into a milk crate. Whole families tucked inside.
The lost ended up there because they could sleep without freezing to death. And because, after dark, the cops left the place alone. Daniel ended up there because seven thousand other transients made it easy to blend in.
And because skid row was the last place on earth he expected to find Luce.
He’d made a vow after the last life. Losing her like that: a brilliant blaze in the middle of a frozen lake. He couldn’t bear it. Couldn’t let her fall for him again. She deserved to love someone without paying for it with her life. And maybe she could. If only Daniel stayed away.
So there, downtown, along the grittiest street in the City of Angels, Daniel pitched his tent. He’d done it every night for the past three months, ever since Luce would have turned thirteen. Four whole years before he usually encountered her. That was how determined he was to break them out of their cycle.
There was nothing any lonelier or more depressing about skid row than any other home Daniel had made for himself over the years. But there was nothing worth romanticizing, either. He had his days free to wander the city, and at night he had a tent to zip up, shutting out the rest of the world. He had neighbours who kept to themselves. He had a system he could manage.
He’d long ago given up on the pursuit of happiness. Mischief had never held any real appeal, not like it did for so many of his fellow fallen angels. No, prevention— preventing Luce from loving him, from even knowing him in this life—that was his last and only goal.
He rarely flew anymore, and he did miss that. His wings wanted out. His shoulders itched almost all the time, and the skin of his back felt perpetually about to explode from the pressure. But it seemed too conspicuous to let them free—even at night, in the dark, and alone. Someone was always watching him, and he didn’t want Arriane or Roland or even Gabbe to know where he was hiding out. He didn’t want company at all.
But every once in a while he was supposed to check in with a member of the Scale. They were sort of like parole officers for the fallen. In the beginning, the Scale had mattered more. More angels out there to measure, more to nudge back toward their truest nature. Now that so few of them remained “up for grabs,” the Scale liked to keep a special eye on Daniel. All the meetings he’d had with them over the years added up to nothing but an enormous waste of time. Until the curse was broken, things were bound to remain this way: in limbo. But he’d been around long enough to know that if he didn’t seek them out, they would come to him.
At first he’d thought the new girl was one of them. Turned out she was something else entirely.
A voice outside his tent. Daniel unzipped the front panel and stuck his head outside. The sky at dusk was pink and smoggy. Another hot night on the row.
The girl was standing before him. She had on cutoffs and a worn white T-shirt. Her blond hair was stuffed into a thick bun on top of her head.
“I’m Shelby,” she said.
Daniel stared at her. “And?”
“And you’re the only other kid my age in this place. Or at least, the only kid my age who’s not in the corner over there cooking crack.” She pointed to a part of the street that flowed into a dark alley Daniel had never ventured down. “Just thought I’d introduce myself.”
Daniel narrowed his eyes. If she were Scale, she would have had to make herself known. They appeared on earth in plain clothes, but they always announced themselves to the fallen. It was just one of the rules.
“Daniel,” he finally said. He didn’t come out of his tent.
“Aren’t you friendly,” she muttered under her breath. She looked annoyed, but she didn’t walk away. She just stood there staring down at him, shifting her weight and tugging at the frayed hems of her shorts. “Look, uh, Daniel, maybe this is going to sound weird, but I got a ride to this party tonight in the Valley. Was going to see if you wanted, uh”—she shrugged—“it might be fun.”
Everything about this girl seemed just slightly larger than life. The square face, the high forehead, the green flecked hazel eyes. Her voice rose above all the racket on the row. She looked tough enough to make it on the street, but then again, she also stuck out. Almost as much as Daniel did.
He was surprised to find that the more he stared at her, the more cause he had to stare. She looked so incredibly familiar. He must have noticed it the few times he’d seen her walking around before. But it wasn’t until that moment that he figured out who Shelby reminded him of. Who she was the spitting image of.
Before the Fall, he’d been one of Daniel’s closest confidants. One of his very few true friends. Precocious and full of opinions, Semihazah was also honest and fiercely loyal. When the war began and so many of them left Heaven, Daniel had his hands full with Luce. Out of all the angels, Sem came closer than anyone to understanding Daniel’s situation.
He had a similar weakness for love.
Gorgeous, hedonistic Sem could cast a spell over anyone he met. Especially the fairer sex. For a while, it seemed like every time Daniel saw Sem after the Fall, he had a different mortal girl on his wing.
Except for the last time they’d seen each other. It was a few years ago. Daniel marked time by where Luce was in life, so he remembered Sem’s visit as the summer before she entered middle school. Daniel was spending his days in Quintana Roo when Semihazah showed up at his door alone.
A business call. Sem had the badge to prove it. A Scale scar. The gold insignia of the seven-pointed scar. They had gotten to him. They’d been after him for a while and he said eventually he just got tired. Didn’t Daniel ever get tired, he wanted to know.
It pained Daniel to see his friend so . . . reformed. Everything about him seemed smaller. Regulation-size. The fire inside him gone out.
Their meeting was graceless and tense. They spoke to each other like strangers. Daniel remembered feeling most angry that Sem hadn’t even asked about Luce. When he took his leave, Sem was cursing, and Daniel knew he wouldn’t be back. He would ask to be taken off the case. He would ask for someone easier.
Daniel had accepted that he might never see his friend again. Which was why he was so floored to realize who the girl was.
Standing before him on skid row was one of Semihazah’s offspring. A daughter.
She must have had a mortal mother. Shelby was a Nephilim.
He stood to get a better look at her. She stiffened but didn’t back away when he got up in her face. About fourteen. Pretty, but a handful. Like her father. Did she even know who—or what—she was? Her cheeks flushed as Daniel studied her.
“Um. Are you okay?” she asked.
“Where’s this party?”
They spent an hour stuck in traffic in a van crammed with strangers. Daniel couldn’t have talked to Shelby even if he’d known what to say. Tell me about the father who abandoned you seemed like the wrong way to get started. When they finally made it over the hills into the vast, flat valley, the house they stopped in front of was dark. It didn’t look like a party at all.
Daniel was wary. He’d been on the lookout for signs that this gathering was something more than mortal. A setup. A sign that Shelby was in one of the Nephilim circles he’d heard Roland talk about. Daniel had never paid much attention before.
The front door was unlocked, so Daniel followed Shelby, who followed the rest of the carload, inside. This was no celestial gathering. No, the people at this party looked lifeless.
They were passed out, making out, checking out, strewn across the couch and in heaps on the floor. The only light in the room came from a refrigerator being opened when somebody pulled out a beer. It was stuffy and hot and something in the corner smelled rotten.
Daniel didn’t know why he’d come, what he was doing there, and it made him ache for Luce. He could fly away from here and go to her right now! The time they spent together was the only time in Daniel’s whole existence when anything made sense.
Until she went out in a flash and everything went dark.
He kept forgetting his promise. To stay away this time. To let her live.
In the dark, disgusting living room, Daniel took a hard look at life without her, and he shuddered. If he’d had a way out, he would have taken it. But he didn’t.
“This sucks.” Shelby was standing at his side. She was shouting over the harsh, discordant music, and still Daniel could only read her lips. She jerked her head toward the back door. Daniel nodded, following her.
The backyard was small and fenced in, with scorched grass and patches of sandy dirt. They took a seat on the small cement ledge and Shelby cracked open a beer.
“Sorry I dragged you all the way out here for this shit show,” she said, taking a swig, then passing the warm can to Daniel.
“You hang out with this crowd often?”
“First and last time,” she said. “My mom and I, we move around a lot, so I don’t really get to hang out with any crowd for too long.”
“Good,” Daniel said. “I mean, I don’t think this is the kind of crowd you should be spending your time with. What are you, fourteen?”
Shelby snorted. “Um, thanks for the unsolicited advice, Dad, but I can look out for myself. Years of practice.”
Daniel put down the beer can and looked up at the sky. One reason he liked L.A. was that you could never really see the stars. Tonight, though, he missed them.
“What about your parents?” he finally asked.
“Mom means well, she just works all the time. Or, all the time she’s not in between jobs. She has a special talent for getting herself fired. So we keep moving and she keeps promising that one day things are going to get “stable” for us. I’ve had some problems, you know, adjusting. It’s kind of a long story. . . .”
Shelby trailed off, like she thought she’d already said too much. The way she was avoiding his gaze made Daniel realize that she did know at least a little bit about her lineage.
“But Mom thinks she’s got the solution,” she went on, shaking her head. “She’s got this fancy school all picked out and everything. Talk about a pipe dream.”
“And your dad?”
“Skipped town before I was born. Real classy guy, huh?”
“He used to be,” Daniel said softly.
Then—Daniel didn’t know why—he reached out and took Shelby’s hand. He didn’t even know her, but he felt an urge to protect her. She was Sem’s daughter, which made her strangely almost like Daniel’s niece. She looked surprised when his fingers clasped hers, but she didn’t pull away.
Daniel wanted to take her away from here. This was no place for a girl like Shelby. But at the same time, he knew it wasn’t just this party or this town that was the problem. It was Shelby’s whole life. She was totally screwed up. Because of Sem.
Just as Luce’s lives had been screwed up because of Daniel.
He swallowed hard and suppressed a fierce new urge to go to Luce. He didn’t belong here in this fenced-in yard. On this hot night, at this stupid party, with nothing to look forward to for the rest of eternity.
Now Shelby squeezed his hand. When he met her eyes, they looked different. Bigger. Softer. They looked like—
He pulled away and stood up quickly.
Shelby thought he’d been making a move.
“Where are you going?” she said. “Did—did I do something wrong?”
“No.” He sighed. “I did.”
He wanted to clear things up, but he didn’t know how. His eyes fixed on the busted screen door, where a dark shadow wobbled slightly in the stiff, hot wind.
Usually, Daniel ignored them. The past few years they’d started coming to him less and less. Maybe this one—maybe it had something to do with Shelby. Maybe he could show her instead of flailing for the words.
He nodded at the Announcer and let it glide into his palm. A moment later he’d worked it into a flat, black plane. He could just begin to see the image coming clear. Luce. And he knew instantly that he’d made a big mistake. His wings burned and his heart ached as if it were breaking into pieces inside him. He didn’t know where or when in time he was viewing her, but it didn’t matter. It was all he could do not to dive inside and go after her. A single tear rolled down his cheek.
“What the—” Shelby’s shocked tone broke Daniel’s concentration.
But before Daniel could respond, a siren sounded on the street. Flashing lights lit up the side of the house, then the blades of grass in the backyard. The Announcer splintered apart in Daniel’s hands. Shelby scrambled to her feet. She was looking at Daniel like something had just clicked but she didn’t have the words to express what it was.
Then the screen door whipped open behind them and a handful of kids from the party raced out.
“Cops,” one of them hissed at Shelby before they all dashed across the lawn, toward the fence. They helped each other scramble over it and were gone.
A moment later, two cops jogged around the side of the house and stopped in front of Daniel and Shelby.
“Okay, kids, you’re coming with us.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. It wasn’t the first time he’d been booked. Dealing with the police always veered between a minor annoyance and a big joke. But Shelby wasn’t going in so easy.
“Oh yeah?” she cried. “On what grounds?”
“Breaking and entering a condemned residence. Illegal substance use. Underage drinking. Disturbing the peace. And somebody stole that shopping cart from Ralphs. Take your pick, sweetheart.”
At the station, Daniel waved to the two cops he knew and poured two cups of hot brown water from the coffeemaker, one for Shelby, one for himself. The girl looked nervous, but Daniel knew they didn’t have much to worry about. He was just about to plop down in the seat where the booking officer took your information, your personal items, and your mug shot—when he noticed someone standing in the doorway of the station.
She was dressed in a smart black suit, with her silver hair spun into a tight twist. Her black heels clicked across the wood floor as she approached him. She ran her eyes over Shelby briefly, then turned to Daniel and smiled.
“Hello, dear,” she said. She turned to face the cops. “I’m the parole officer for this young man. What’s he in for?”
The cop handed over his report. Miss Sophia skimmed it quickly, clucking her tongue.
“Really, Daniel, theft of a shopping cart? And you knew this was your last violation before the court-mandated reform school. Oh, don’t give me that face,” she said, a weird smile pulling up the corners of her mouth. “You’ll like Sword and Cross. I promise.”
Arriane’s Day Out
“Wide load! Coming through!”
Arriane wheeled a large red shopping cart down the housewares aisle of the Savannah Salvation Army thrift store. Her thin arms gripped the handlebar as she heaved the heavy cart forward. She’d already loaded it up with two polka-dotted lamp shades, a sofa’s worth of tacky pillows, nine plastic Halloween lanterns filled with long-expired candy, half a dozen cheap patterned dresses, a few shoe boxes full of bumper stickers, and a pair of neon-coloured roller skates. So by this point it was difficult for Arriane, who stood scarcely five feet tall, to see where she was steering.
“Step aside, toots, unless you have no need for your toes. That’s right, I’m talking to you. And your toddler.”
“Arriane,” Roland said calmly. He was one aisle over, flipping through a milk crate crammed with dusty vinyl records. His pin-striped blazer was unbuttoned, showing a Pink Floyd T-shirt underneath. His thick dreadlocks hung down slightly over his dark eyes. “You really know how to keep a low profile, don’t you?”
“Hey!” Arriane sounded wounded as she tried to manoeuvre her shopping cart in a hairpin turn and wheeled down Roland’s aisle. She stopped in front of him and jabbed an electric-blue painted fingernail into his chest. “I take my work here seriously, pal. We have a lot of goods to procure in just two days.”
Arriane’s words seemed to remind her of something that filled her with sudden joy. Her pastel blue eyes ignited and a wide grin spread across her face. She gripped Roland’s arm and shook him, causing her long black hair to tumble from its messy bun. It flowed down to her waist and shimmered as she cried, “Two days! Two days! Our Lucy’s coming back to us in two freaking days!”
Roland chuckled. “You’re cute when you’re excited.”
“Then I must be the mayor of Adorableville right now!” Arriane leaned against a rack of old stereo equipment and sighed a happy little sigh. “I live for her arrivals. I mean, not in the same way Daniel does, obviously. But I do feel a certain speck of delight at the prospect of seeing her again.” She rested her head-on Roland’s shoulder. “Do you think she’ll have changed?”
Roland was back to flipping through the box of records. Every third or fourth one he tossed into Arriane’s shopping cart. “She’s had a whole other life, Arri. Of course, she’ll have changed a little bit.”
Arriane threw down the Sly and the Family Stone album she’d been examining. “But she’ll still be our Lucinda”
“That does seem to be the pattern,” Roland said, giving Arriane the are-you-crazy look she got from most people including everyone else at the thrift store but not usually from Roland. “At least, it’s been that way for the past several thousand years. Why would you even have to ask?”
“Dunno” Arriane shrugged. “I passed Miss Sophia in the office at Sword and Cross. She was hauling around all these boxes of files, muttering about ˜preparations.’ Like everything had to be perfect or something. I don’t want Luce to show up and be disappointed. Maybe she’ll be different, really different this time. You know how I feel about change.”
She peered into her shopping cart. The tacky pillows she’d thrown into it in case this Luce, like the last Luce, could be cheered up with a raging pillow fight” suddenly, they just looked ugly and childish to Arriane. And the roller skates? When were they ever going to use roller skates at a reform school? What was she thinking? She’d gotten carried away. Again.
Roland tweaked Arriane’s nose. “At the risk of sounding banal, I say just be yourself. Luce will love you. She always does. And if all else fails,” he said, sifting through the booty Arriane had tossed into the cart, “there’s always your secret weapon.” He held up the small plastic bag of drinking straws with paper umbrellas glued onto them. “You should definitely bust out these guys.” “You’re right. As usual.” Arriane smiled, patting Roland on the head. “I do throw a mean happy hour.” She slung her arm around his waist as the two of them wheeled the heavy cart down the aisle.
As they walked, Roland looked down at the shopping list he’d made on his BlackBerry. “We got the party music. We got the decorations for your room, and the duct tape”
“How you go through so much duct tape is one of the great mysteries of the universe.”
“Anything else we need here before we go to the gourmet store?”
Arriane wrinkled her nose. “Gourmet store? But . . . Luce likes junk food.”
“Don’t shoot the messenger,” Roland said. “Cam asked me to pick him up some caviar, a pound of figs, a few other things.”
“Caviar? First of all, gag me. Second of all, what would Cam want with caviar? Wait a minute”
She stopped short in the middle of the aisle, causing another shopper with a cartful of discount Christmas decorations to rear-end them. Arriane let the woman pass, then lowered her voice. “Cam’s not going to try to seduce Luce again, is he?”
Roland went back to pushing the cart. He was excellent at keeping mum when he needed to, and it always pissed Arriane off.
“Roland.” She wedged her black boot under the wheel of the shopping cart to stop it in its tracks. “Need I remind you of the disaster that was 1684? Not to mention the calamity Cam caused in 1515? And I know you remember what happened when he tried to hit on her in the year eleven-twent—”
“You also know I try to stay out of all the drama.”
“Yeah.” Arriane muttered. “And yet you’re always there in the heart of it.” He rolled his eyes and tried to push past Arriane. She held her ground. “I’m sorry, but courtly Cam is my nightmare. I much prefer him snarling and foaming at the mouth like the devil dog he is.” Arriane panted like a rabid dog for a moment, but when it didn’t get a laugh out of Roland, she crossed her arms over her chest. “And speaking of how utterly horrible your numero uno cohort is over there on the dark side, when are you going to come back to us, Ro?”
Roland didn’t miss a beat. “When I can believe in the cause.”
“Okay, Monsieur Anarchy. So that’s like . . . never?”
“No,” he said, “that’s like, wait and see. We just have to wait and see.”
They were passing the thrift store’s gardening aisle, whose wares included a tangled green hose, a stack of chipped terra-cotta pots, some used doormats, and a generic late-model leaf blower. But it was the large vase of white silk peonies that made both Arriane and Roland stop.
Arriane sighed. She didn’t like to get too sentimental there were angels like Gabbe to do that” but this was one of those things about Daniel and Luce that always kind of touched her.
At least once in every lifetime, Daniel gave Luce a huge bouquet of flowers. They were always, without fail, white peonies. There must have been a story behind it: Why peonies instead of tulips or gladiolas? Why white instead of red or pink? But even though some of the other angels speculated, Arriane realized that the specifics behind this tradition were not for her to know. She didn’t know from love, other than what she saw in Luce and Daniel, but she enjoyed the ceremony. And the way Luce always seemed more touched by this gesture than by anything else Daniel did.
Arriane and Roland looked at each other. Like they were thinking the same thing. Or were they?
Why was Roland’s face twitching?
“Don’t buy those for him, Arri.”
“I would never buy those for him,” Arriane said. “They’re fake. It would totally defeat the purpose of the gesture. We have to get real ones, big huge beautiful real ones, in a crystal vase with a ribbon, and then only when the time is right. We never know if it’s going to come quickly or not. It could be weeks, months, before they get to that point” She froze, eyeing Roland sceptically. “But you know all this. So why would you tell me not to get them? Roland, what do you know?”
“Nothing.” His face twitched again.
“Roland Jedidiah Sparks the Third.”
“Nothing.” He put up his hands in supplication.
“Nothing to tell.”
“Do you want another Indian windburn?” she threatened, grabbing on to the back of his neck and feeling around for his shoulder blade.
“Look,” Roland said, flicking her away. “You worry about Luce and I worry about Daniel. That’s the drill, that’s always been the drill”
“Screw your drill,” she pouted, turning away from him to face a checkout attendant.
Arriane looked genuinely hurt, and if there was one thing Roland couldn’t stand, it was hurting her. He let out a long, deep breath. “Thing is, I just don’t know if Daniel’s going to go for all the same patterns this time around. Maybe he doesn’t want to do the peonies.”
“Why not?” Arriane asked, and Roland started to answer, but her expression changed into something sad. She held up a hand for him to stop. “It’s wearing Daniel out, isn’t it?”
Arriane rarely felt stupid, but she did now, standing in the middle of the thrift store with her cart overflowing with goofy props and practical jokes. It wasn’t that the whole thing was a game to her but it was different for the rest of them than it was for Daniel.
Arriane had started thinking about when Luce . . . went away each lifetime like her friend was just trucking off to summer camp while Arriane had to stay home. Luce would be back. Things would be boring in the meantime without her, but she would always come back.
But for Daniel
His heart broke. It must have broken a little more every time. How could he stand it? Maybe, she realized, he couldn’t. And he had been abnormally low in this life. Had Daniel’s punishment finally gotten to a point where it had broken not just his heart, but him?
What if it had? The really sad part was, it wouldn’t matter. Everyone knew that Daniel still had to go on living. Still had to fall in love with Luce. Just like the rest of them still had to watch, gently nudging the lovebirds toward their inevitable climax.
It wasn’t like Daniel could do anything about it, so why not keep up with the good and sweet and loving parts of their story? Why not give Luce the peonies?
“He doesn’t want to love her this time,” Roland finally said.
“That’s Daniel,” they both said at the same time.
“Well, what are we supposed to do?” Arriane asked.
“Stick within our territory. Provide the earthly goods they need when they need them. And you provide the comic relief.”
Arriane shot him a look, but Roland shook his head. “I’m serious.”
“Serious about joking?”
“Serious that you have a role to play.”
He tossed her a pink tutu from the clearance bin near the checkout line. Arriane fingered the thick tulle. She was still thinking about what it might mean for all of them if Daniel really resisted falling for Luce. If he somehow broke the cycle and they didn’t get together. But it gave her a really heavy feeling inside, like her heart was being dragged down to her feet.
In a matter of seconds, Arriane was tugging the tutu up over her jeans and pirouetting through the store. She bounded into a pair of sisters in matching muumuus, crashed into an easel advertising new linens, and nearly took out a display of candlesticks before Roland caught her in his arms. He twirled her around so the tutu flowed out around her tiny waist.
“You’re crazy,” he said.
“You love it,” Arriane responded dizzily.
“You know I do.” He smiled. “Come on, let’s pay for this stuff and get out of here. We have a lot to do before she gets here.”
Arriane nodded. A lot to do to make sure things were as they should be: Luce and Daniel, falling in love. With everyone around them holding out the hope that somehow, someday, she’d live through it.
Daniel & Gabbe’s Fight
Daniel burst out of Cam’s Sword & Cross dorm room and caught his breath in the quiet of the hall. The party raged on behind him. He cared, of course he cared that Luce was still inside. It was her first introduction to social life at reform school. But if she was going to slip away from him, Daniel refused to sit there and watch it happen. It would be like watching his own heart being ripped from his chest and torn apart.
Where was Gabbe? She was supposed to have met him here a long time ago. Daniel didn’t know why he was surprised. So far in this life, Gabbe had been a less-than ideal guardian angel for Luce. Maybe their whole arrangement had been a mistake.
He paced the hallway, too aware of every sound his body made. How clumsy he felt here on the ground. His shoes squeaked against the floor. His breath came out heavy and exasperated. His watch ticked steadily on.
He didn’t even know how long he had been waiting for Gabbe to show up. Recently time and space felt all out of whack for Daniel, ever since Luce had turned up out of nowhere and walked back into his life. He should have known she was coming—she always did—but somehow, he’d been blindsided. Yet again.
Since she’d arrived at Sword & Cross he hadn’t been able to think straight. Could barely keep his wings contained. This was the hardest part of what he had to do. And there was no end to it in sight.
The two of them. Just stuck here. Together.
As if that weren’t enough, it was all made so much worse by the others hovering over them, waiting to see how it would end this time.
Gabbe’s face was all made up. Shimmering silver eye shadow made her big blue eyes stand out, and her lips were a soft, glossy pink. Her white sweater dress and tall brown boots looked like dinner-at-the-country-club, not party-at-the-dorm-room. Of all the angels who visited Luce across time, Daniel had recently noticed that Arriane and Gabbe were the only ones who regularly changed their appearance.
Arriane seemed to take the same kind of pleasure in her various guises that mortals took in dressing up for a Halloween masquerade. But Gabbe was different. It was like she chose her personas in order to ease more smoothly into Luce’s life. This time Luce grew up in Dixie, so Gabbe was the perfect southern belle.
Clearly—because she was Gabbe, and she was an angel—her intentions were purely innocent, but inside the walls of Sword & Cross, drawling, elegant Gabbe stood out more than any of the rest of them. Her plan to be inconspicuous had backfired.
Now Daniel clutched her by the wrist and pulled her around the hallway corner. He wanted to be hidden from view if anyone else stepped out of Cam’s party.
“You’re late,” he said.
“Daniel, it’s only been three days. You’re already this high-strung?”
Three days. Was that all? It felt like so much longer. The three-plus years Daniel had spent at Sword & Cross without Lucinda hadn’t troubled him at all. He went to class. He did his work. When Roland was around, they would talk. But in just the three days since Luce had arrived on campus, Daniel had already begun to fall apart.
In the dim hallway, Gabbe’s face was so placid. Like she didn’t have any idea how much they were up against.
He couldn’t stand it.
“Three days is more than enough time for you to get Luce alone and tell her. Do you even know what I’ve had to witness in that room?” He pointed back toward Cam’s party and shuddered. “Do I have to remind you of the way he looks at her? Like he’s ravenous.”
Usually, Daniel would just deck Cam whenever he crossed a boundary. It happened many times in every life. All the angels were used to their fighting. Roland had pulled them apart a thousand times. But this life was different.
Daniel was backing away, yes, but he would never, ever surrender her to Cam.
It was why he needed Gabbe. He’d just thought she’d be more help.
Daniel felt tired and conflicted. He could still hear the noise of the party, and his heart wanted him to turn back. But his head didn’t know what to do. Someone, maybe Molly, was singing karaoke. “Tainted Love.”
Luce was probably in there dancing. Her arms looped around Cam’s neck—
“I’m sorry,” Gabbe said. “It won’t happen again.”
“It can’t happen again,” he corrected her. “You promised you’d be there and you weren’t.”
Gabbe eyed him as if she was deciding whether or not to tell him something. After a moment, she reached into her leather tote bag and held out a small rectangular tablet. The top was imprinted with an ornate circular silver insignia.
Daniel recognized it at once. The mark of the Celestial Trials.
The trials took place every summer and winter solstice. A reckoning of every angel’s and demon’s comings and goings since the prior trial. Sentencing for some and recompense for others. All of that was tallied and engraved right there, in tiny silver script, on the tablet in Gabbe’s hand.
Daniel took it from her. It had been a while since he’d studied one of these.
Sure enough, his name was still there, in the same column it had been in since right after the Fall. Since the beginning of the Celestial Trials.
He couldn’t and didn’t really care to make sense of the rest. The numbers were always staggering, and the fate of almost all of the others didn’t matter one bit. To him or to the world. In the end, there were just a few that meant anything at all.
But how had Gabbe gotten her hands on this? Only the celestial secretaries—
“Wait a minute.” His voice was a whisper. The identities of the secretaries were usually kept secret. “Are you—”
Gabbe nodded. “Just awarded,” she whispered back.
He could tell Gabbe was forcing the smile when she slipped the tablet back into her bag. “So you’re going to have to trust me, honey.” Her voice rose back to its sweet southern drawl, like nothing had happened. “I’m the only one you’ve got.”
Daniel didn’t like to think too much about what happened in Heaven anymore, but Gabbe’s news had rattled him, shaking loose in his head a barrage of painful memories. “Are they still protesting?”
“More than ever.” Gabbe nodded. “And, of course, they still want you. Anytime you change your mind—” “I have enough on my plate,” he growled.
Gabbe flinched. Daniel instantly regretted his tone. Sometimes he forgot that others still carried old allegiances.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just unexpected news. I didn’t know you’d been up there. Roland said you told him you were doing missionary work in Uganda. That you were in the middle of building a well when Sophia showed up to drag you here.”
“Little white lie.” Gabbe shrugged. “I was in Uganda digging wells.” She leaned in to whisper, “And then I went up to the Celestial Trials. But I’m here now, aren’t I? And I’m going to do everything I can.”
Daniel exhaled, but something still wasn’t right. He leaned down and cocked his head, trying to catch her blue eyes. “What aren’t you saying?”
“It’s nothing.” Gabbe continued to look away. “Nothing major, anyway. Look, I know I shouldn’t even say this, especially not to you. But it’s just, every time I’ve tried to talk to Luce in this life, she’s blown me off. I think she thinks I’m snobby or too prissy or something. I think my accent bugs her.”
She sighed, folding her arms over her chest, and Daniel could almost feel how pained she was by what she took as Luce’s rejection. For a split second, he envied her problem. It would be easier if only Luce would treat him that way.
“We used to be inseparable,” Gabbe continued. “I don’t know. I think she likes Arriane more this time. Maybe we should ask Arriane to help—”
“Arriane can’t be counted on,” Daniel interrupted. “Besides, she’s too close to Roland.”
“You’re close to Roland.” Gabbe blinked. “Now you’re turning on Arriane?”
Daniel didn’t know why he kept snapping at Gabbe. But she was right about one thing: He was the last person she should complain to about not being as close to Luce this life. Luce was Daniel’s only love, and he had never felt more distant from her than he did at Sword & Cross.
“I’m not turning on anyone.” He forced himself to soften his voice. “But we have to think about Luce first. She’s impressionable. And Arriane’s too scattered. I need you to impress on her that, above all things, Cam is not an option.”
“If she’ll even listen to me,” Gabbe said. “The other day, I offered to let her use my makeup when she was crying, but she—”
“Find a way to get her attention, then. Make something up!”
“Well,” she huffed, “if you’re so particular, why don’t you write the script?”
“Fine,” he said quickly. “Say you dated Cam. Say it ended badly and he was a terrible boyfriend but you’re still all broken up about it. Say you’re terrified he’ll move on and start seeing someone else.”
“I’m not going to lie to her, Daniel.”
“Why not? You just lied to Roland.”
“Only because I could be sentenced for telling anyone—including you—what I’ve been doing in heaven. This is different. To lie to Luce, even about a temporary alliance with Cam, would be to lie about the very fundamentals of our universe. Just when she needs to be sorting them out.” Gabbe shook her head. “That’s messed up.”
Daniel leaned against the hallway wall and closed his eyes. His body felt like a tight cage around his soul. Cramped and unnatural. He felt an urge to free himself of all of this. But it was selfish and impossible, because no matter what he did, his road would always lead him right back here. To her.
“I’m sorry,” he told Gabbe. “I’m a mess right now. It’s agony.”
“I know, Daniel—”
“No,” he said. “You don’t. I . . . I swore her off.”
“What?” Gabbe gasped. Her head whipped around and her blue eyes bored into his. “You can’t swear her off.”
Daniel cringed. He should have thought before he said that. He should have known he’d get this response. It was in Gabbe’s nature to insist that Daniel not give up.
“I don’t want to kill her again,” he said, biting out the words. He was near tears and didn’t care. “I can’t.”
“You’re too irrational,” she said, but there was panic rising in her voice that Daniel didn’t want to hear. “There’s a way through this. I know you’ll say there never has been before, but there’s got to be. I believe.” She gripped his shoulders. “Promise me you won’t give up.”
“Then tell me what to do.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Trust your instincts.”
“They’re at war.”
From the expression on Gabbe’s face, Daniel knew he must look miserable. She drew him in and put her arms around him. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been hugged by anyone. Gabbe wasn’t just goodness; she was also strength.
“I’ll befriend her,” she said. “I’ll stay on Cam’s case. I won’t lie to her, Daniel, but I won’t lie to you, either. When I say you can count on me, you know my word is good.”
“Don’t thank me yet. Because when I hear things from above, I’m going to tell you,” she said. “And you’re going to help me down here. Something’s happening. I don’t know what, but it’s only going to get bigger. We can’t have you swearing off Lucinda just before the War breaks out.” She glared at him with an intensity that was almost frightening. “Not when we need you to win.”
Date with an Outcast
Phil turned the ramshackle Maroon coloured Mercedes towards the Coast Pacific highway, a road behind "Panoramic view". The majority of couples parked at the second road to the North of the school off the coast, which Shelby hated because it was only for couples that were "officially together." Shelby did not know where she stood with Phil.
They barely spoke on the trip. Better yet, they had barely spoken since they met; only saying hi when they were in the school corridors and occasionally speaking when working on school assignments.
Phil had invited her on a date for the first time that night and she had said yes because... He was almost handsome. He could have been more handsome if Shelby were the kind of girl to give her boyfriend advice. She should perhaps suggest... why do you continue to use those hideous glasses? The sun had gone down hours ago.
After a moment of observing the ocean illuminated by the Moon in front of them, Phil reached for Shelby’s hands and pulled her towards him so that she sat on his lap. His skin was really smooth. His touch was cold, going through Shelby’s entire body through his jeans, but she forced herself to remain seated and pretended that it was romantic or something.
So, you have a new roommate? Phil asked Shelby with white eyes.
Yes, I do, who wants to talk about her?
Maybe I want to.
Then invite her to go on a date! -said Shelby, trying to conceal her sudden fury-Jesus, Man, what a great way to make a girl feel special.
Sorry, Shelby - his frozen hand pulled her forcefully towards him – I just wanted to know if you two getting along well.
Would you like it if you wanted a room to yourself and then suddenly...? This martyr girl arrives and ruins everything?
I would like to meet her someday.
What? -Shelby was not sure if Phil was playing a joke or if she was overreacting. She had a reputation for overreacting. After being sent to completely Nephilim territory. Absent father, shattered mother, bla, bla, bla.
Yeah, if that’s what you want.
Perhaps we could all go out together someday - said Phil.
I said "sure" - as if that would ever happen. Lucinda and I were not exactly best friends.
Phil smiled. Shelby had never seen him smile before. Had never noticed how pale his lips were.
Excellent - he said, accommodating his glasses just above his eyes. Shelby held her breath when she looked at the colour of the irises of Phil’s eyes.
They were the most beautiful intoxicating blue that she had ever seen. Their colour was so incredible that it seemed almost impossible to be real.
She had no choice but to kiss him.
Cam Goes Hunting
Cam leaned back against the redwood tree and slipped a cigarette from his silver case. At the edge of the forest, he was just out of view from the Shoreline deck, where the Nephilim were engaged in another one of their inane class projects. He could keep watch from here. He could protect her without her knowing it.
A branch snapped behind him and Cam whirled around, fists clenched, the cigarette still clipped between his lips. Interesting. It was one of the females, alone. She hadn’t sensed his presence on the other side of the tree.
Her silver bow was not even drawn.
“Got a light, Outcast?”
The girl blinked her white eyes, which made Cam feel nauseated and almost a little bit sorry for her.
The Outcasts do not play with fire,” she said in a hollow voice, her pale fingers moving toward the inner pocket of her tan trench coat.
“Yes, that always was the Outcasts’ problem, wasn’t it?” Cam played it cool. No reason to alarm her. That would only draw the starshot faster. He snapped his fingers, igniting a small flame, and held it up to light the cigarette.
“You are spying on her.” The girl jerked her blond head upward, toward the deck where—it was true— Lucinda was seated on a bench, looking striking in a rose-red sweater and her newly bleached hair. She was talking to some Nephilim friend, talking in the open, trusting way she used to talk to Cam. Her hazel eyes wide, her lips pursed with that old sadness. Cam could look at her all day.
Alas, he forced himself to turn back to the lifeless creature before him. “I’m protecting her from the likes of you,” he spat. “There’s a difference, baby, not that you’d be able to see it.”
He stole another glance at Luce. She had risen from the bench. Her eyes travelled down the deck stairs, which led too close to Cam’s hideout in the woods. What was she doing? He stiffened. Was she coming over?
The starshot whizzed through the air when Cam was least expecting it. He sensed it at the last possible second and dodged his head right, scraping his cheek against the tree trunk, and catching the shaft of the arrow in his leather-gloved hand. He was trembling, but he would not give the Outcast the satisfaction of knowing how close she had come. He pocketed the arrow.
“I’d use this to extinguish you,” he said lightly, “but it would be a waste of a perfectly good starshot. Especially when it’s so much more fun to beat you
Before the girl could draw another arrow, Cam lunged at her and grabbed her by the ponytail. He kneed her in the stomach, hard, then jerked her head back and punched her sideways in the face. She cried out and something cracked, maybe the bone of her nose, but Cam kept punching, even as the blood began to flow— from her nose, from her lip, all down his fist. From the moment, he started whaling on the Outcast, he forced himself to tune out her girlish whimpers. Otherwise, he couldn’t have gone on like that. The Outcasts were sexless, lifeless, worthless—but in spite of all that, they were a threat to everything that mattered most to Cam.
“You will” — punch — “not” — knee snap — “get her.”
The Outcast gagged as she coughed up one of her teeth and spat blood across Cam’s T-shirt.
“Spoken like someone who never even had a chance.” He punched her again, right in the eye. “I did. You hear that, Outcast? I may have lost it, but I used to have a chance.”
Beating up the Outcasts was easy—too easy. It was a pointless exercise, like an old video game you’d bested but played again out of boredom. They’d heal like all the fallen, no matter how much damage he inflicted.
The Outcast grunted as Cam gave her skull a final kick that knocked her to the ground. She landed face down in the mulchy leaves. After that, she did not move. So, it was up to Cam to yank her to her feet and shove her bloodied body back whence she’d come.
“Tell your friends you are not welcome in this forest!” he shouted after her, watching as she tugged open an Announcer and fell inside.
He leaned back against the redwood and took a long calming drag on his cigarette just as Lucinda started down the stairs.
Inside Francesca’s Office
Francesca was upset, and she wasn’t sure why. It was obvious in her short breaths and in the tense space behind her knees and in the incipient headache behind her eyes. She hated it when she was upset, hated being less than perfectly in control. But she wasn’t in control, and she didn’t know why. Certainly, it wasn’t because of this callow new student.
When Roland Sparks had arrived at Shoreline, Francesca had not been surprised. Nearly all the fallen angels were on the move during the truce days, so it was only a matter of time before some of them came to her and Steven for help.
He sat before her desk now, in his ostentatious starched white shirt, having just convinced Steven to allow him to “audit” some of their Nephilim classes. Ridiculous. If Roland wanted to spy on Lucinda, there were less obtrusive ways.
“You’re going to have to change your clothes,” she said to the fallen angel—or, as custom dictated he be called, demon—coolly. “Real students at Shoreline have never heard of an ironing board. Let alone . . . what are those?” She leaned down to eye his boots.
His smile almost seemed to taunt her. “Ferragamo.”
“Ferragamo? Pick up a sweatshirt and some sneakers at the Salvation Army down the street.” She looked away and pointlessly shuffled her papers. No matter how long she’d lived with Stephen, demons always managed to unnerve her.
“Francesca.” Steven swivelled in his desk chair to lean into her. “Don’t you want to talk about what happened today?”
“What’s there to talk about?” she said, closing her eyes to block out the image of her best students’ whitewashed faces when she and Steven had offered them a glimpse inside that dark Announcer. “It was a mistake to even try.”
“We took a chance. We got unlucky.” Steven rested a warm hand across hers. He was always warm, and she was always cold. Usually, that made her draw closer to him every chance she got. But today, his heat oppressed her and his open affection in front of Roland Sparks embarrassed her. She flinched away.
“Unlucky?” She scoffed. She could feel herself about to launch into a tirade about statistics and class safety and those Nephilim kids not being ready to play hardball—and while every word she spoke would be absolutely true, all three of them in that office knew that her rant was a foolish cover-up for their real concern that day. For the real reason, she was so off her game.
Lucinda Price was ready.
And that terrified Francesca.
Daniel and Luce: The Perfect Date
“Come on,” Daniel said, hopping out of the car and coming around to open Luce’s door. “Let’s take a walk.”
They ambled to the end of the street, which led to a steep, rocky staircase going down to the water. The air was cool and moist with sea spray. Just to the left of the steps, a trail led away. Daniel took her hand and moved to the cliff’s edge.
“Where are we going?” Luce asked.
Daniel smiled at her, straightening his shoulders, and unfurled his wings.
Slowly, they extended up and out from his shoulders, unfolding with an almost inaudible series of soft snaps and creaks. Fully flexed, they made a gentle, feathery fwump like a duvet being flung over a bed.
His wings never failed to leave Luce speechless.
They were enormous, spanning three times his height, and curved up into the sky and to either side like broad white sails. Their broad expanse caught the light of the stars and reflected it more intensely, so that they glowed with an iridescent shimmer. Near his body they darkened, shading into a rich earthy cream colour where they met his shoulder muscles. But along their tapered edges, they grew thin and glowed, becoming almost translucent at the tips.
Luce stared at them, rapt, trying to remember the line of every glorious feather, to hold all of it inside her for when he went away. He shone so bright, the sun could have borrowed light from him. The smile in his violet eyes told her how good it felt for him to let his wings out. As good as Luce felt when she was wrapped up in them.
“Fly with me,” he whispered.
Her answer was a kiss. She laced her fingers around his neck, holding him as tightly as she could.
With her back pressed to his chest, and his head over her shoulder, Daniel traced a line of kisses down her neck. She held her breath, waiting. Then he bent his legs and gracefully pushed off the edge of the cliff.
They were flying.
Away from the rocky ledge of the coastline, over the crashing silver waves below, arcing across the sky as if they were soaring for the moon. Daniel’s embrace shielded her from every rough gust of wind, every brush of ocean chill. The night was absolutely quiet. As if they were the only two people left in the world.
“This is Heaven, isn’t it?” she asked.
Daniel laughed. “I wish it were. Maybe one day soon.”
When they had flown out far enough that they couldn’t see land on either side of them, Daniel banked gently north, and they swooped in a wide arc past the city of Mendocino, which glowed warmly on the horizon. They were far above the tallest building in town and moving incredibly fast. But Luce had never felt safer or more in love in her life.
And then, all too soon, they were descending, gradually nearing a different cliff’s edge. The sounds of the ocean grew louder again. A dark single-lane road wound off the main highway. When their feet touched down lightly on a cool patch of thick grass, Luce closed her eyes. She never wanted it to end.
Wow, it’s sure been a while since the last time I wrote.
I guess these past, er, three years have really flown by! (And just for the record, per my last entry, I am no longer afraid of water balloons. Only clowns wielding water balloons. Spooky.)
I’m writing today because, well, there’s this new girl here at Shoreline. She’s my roommate. And we know how I feel about sharing. I’d only just finished smudging the dorm room free of all bad vibes (my satchel of sage leaves finally shipped from the Canyon Country Store), when in walks this human embodiment of bad vibes.
She’s only been here, like, a day, but already she’s totally zoning in on my space . . . and already, I’ve been a pretty horrid bitch to her.
Let’s just say ol’ Shel is not adjusting so well to the change. I don’t mean to bark at her all the time. It’s just she’s so helpless and naïve and— Okay, the truth?
I know the guy she’s dating. Remember Daniel
Grigori? The blond slice of perfection with the grey eyes I could sometimes swear were violet? (If not, see pages twelve through twenty-two of this here book.) (I know. I know! I wrote way too much about him after the single encounter we had, which ended in a very unromantic visit to the county jail, but Daniel was so nice to me. I couldn’t help it.) (I thought we had a connection. I was stupid. It was nothing. I was wrong.)
He was just one of those rare kind people who happened to also be gorgeous.
He just found me at a bad time and I swear I didn’t know about his history with Lucinda Price. It’s not like I was already at Shoreline, where you can barely sneeze without stumbling into some girly girls gossiping about how romantic they are.
Lucinda and Daniel.
Lucinda and Daniel.
Whatever. I guess it’s total karma that the girl ends up being my roommate. Maybe she’s not that bad. It’s not like I’ve given her a chance. She just showed up here, out of the blue, and it threw me for a major loop.
I’ll try to be nicer. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe if she’s nice first—
Whoops, gotta jet! My new roommate just walked in!
===Miles in the Dark===
Miles had never meant to splinter off a second Lucinda.
One moment she had been a single girl in danger— his friend, a beautiful girl he’d kissed once, too, but that wasn’t the point—and then a second later, Miles’s eyes went cloudy and his heart pounded and before he knew what he was doing, he had thrown a mirror image of Luce right into the standoff with the Outcasts. Conjured her out of thin air and his deep feelings for her.
Two of her, suddenly. Both as gorgeous as a starry
sky: dark jeans, dark shirts, two dark heads of hair. And there was such a dark look in Luce’s mirror image’s eyes when she took flight with the Outcast. And then—Miles pinched his own eyes shut at the memory—with one loosed silver arrow, the mirage image was gone.
Too soon after that, his friend, the real Luce, had disappeared, too.
He was such an idiot! The stupid words he’d said to her the first time they talked about his so-called talent would not stop running through his mind: It’s easy to do with the people you, like, love.
Did Luce remember their conversation that day on the deck at Shoreline? Was what he told her then one of the things that had sent her plunging into the Announcer all alone?
She hadn’t even looked back.
Now the yard was buzzing with the angels and their disbelief. Miles and Shelby were having a tough time grappling with what Luce had just done, but they’d seen her open Announcers. The angels, though, looked ready to keel over from shock.
Miles watched her so-called boyfriend as he worked through his own shock. His stupid mouth opened and closed silently. Daniel didn’t know his girlfriend could do anything. He had no idea how very much she was capable of.
Miles turned away from them all and crossed his arms over his chest. It wouldn’t do him any good to get angrier with Daniel Grigori. Luce was crazy about him. They had been in love forever. Miles couldn’t compete with that.
He gave the dead grass a futile kick—and his foot bumped into something. It glinted in the dark.
An unclaimed starshot.
No one was looking. The angels were huddled together, arguing about how to find Lucinda.
Miles felt wild and unhinged and not like himself at all, but suddenly he snatched the starshot from the ground and tucked it into the inside pocket of his brown corduroy coat.
“Miles, what are you doing?” Shelby’s whisper made him jump.
“Good.” She waved to him from behind the shed, out of view of the bickering angels. “Then get over here and help me with this Announcer. It’s being a royal pain in the—argh.” The dark shadow pooled in her hands, completely unresponsive.
“Shelby!” Miles whispered as he jogged over. “Why are you doing that?”
“Why do you think, blockhead?”
Miles laughed under his breath at the fierce determination on her face. It wasn’t the Announcer; it was Shelby. She was terrible at stepping through but would die before she ever admitted it. It was kind of cute.
“You—you want to go after her?” he asked.
“Duh,” she said. “Are you with me? Or are you too scared?” She glared at Miles, then swallowed, changed her pitch, and took his hand. “Please don’t make me go alone.”
Miles took the Announcer off Shelby’s hands and struggled to expand it in the dark. Soon it opened up into an inky portal, very much like the one Luce had just stepped through.
“I’m with you,” he said, and took Shelby’s hand.
And together, they entered the darkness.
=== Shelby’s First Glimpse === “Where are we?” Shelby moaned as she and Miles stepped through the Announcer into a dark and sultry alley. There was cheesy techno music coming from around the corner. Techno always made Shelby cranky.
“Good question.” Miles’s sneakers sloshed as he stepped out of the moonlit puddle under his feet. “Wherever we are, we should be closer to Luce than we were a few minutes ago when we left her backyard.” He lifted up a trash can lid and peered under it. “Luce?
You in there?”
Shelby gave him one of her too-bored glares. Some kind of useless joke.
“Did that Announcer screw us over or what?” She kicked the can in frustration.
“You tell me,” Miles said. “You summoned it.”
“Yeah, well, you didn’t seem to think it was such an awful idea to step through it first.”
“Don’t blame this on me. When I read that book about Announcers, I only— Oh, crap.” Miles spun around in the alley, his hand slapped across his forehead. “Shel, we are so stupid.”
“Listen, Luce went into her past. A past we don’t belong in. How the hell are we going to find her if she’s gone back to some time when we weren’t even born?” He was pacing the alley, tearing at his light brown hair. “This was a huge mistake. Why didn’t either one of us think about that? We just jumped without looking where we were going. What if we’re stuck here? This could be bad—”
“I’m sorry.” Shelby’s voice broke when she least expected it. She’d never seen Miles so pissed off. “But the Announcer came out of my shadow. I summoned it. Maybe, like, something about it wanted me to come back to this moment from my past.”
She could tell that Miles was straining to be his usual nice, polite self. “Okay, um, why?”
A sniffle on the other side of the alley shut both of them up. About a hundred feet away, where the alley elbowed off into the street, stood a shadow. Not an Announcer shadow, but the shadow of a boy. A boy Shelby recognized.
“Omigod.” She reached for Miles, caught hold of his sleeve and squeezed. “That guy over there . . . I think it’s . . .”
“I can see who it is, Shelby. Lower your voice unless you want him to see us.”
“Okay,” she whispered, gripping Miles’s biceps, which was alarmingly rock solid. “So, I think we may have stepped through into this party I went to a few years ago in Corona.” She swallowed. “Things are kind of starting to make sense.”
One day, back at Shoreline, Shelby had told Luce about this very party, about how it was the first time she saw someone summon an Announcer. It was because of this party that Shelby first thought she could help Luce look through the shadows into her past. Because she’d seen a boy—this boy—do it in this alleyway outside this very bad party.
She just hadn’t told Luce that the boy in the alley had been Cam.
But now, here they were, at the same scene Shelby remembered so vividly from before. Cam had his back to them, but the Announcer glowed dimly in his hands as he looked into his past. He was crying, just as she remembered.
Miles looked at her and she looked at him and she knew they were thinking the same thing.
“You think Luce is in that memory?” he said.
“It’s worth a shot,” Shelby whispered as the plan hatched in her head. “In a second, Cam will drop that Announcer. I remember; my fourteen-year-old self is watching from around the corner. Before it falls to pieces, we pounce. If we can catch it before it disintegrates and step through it, then maybe—”
“Maybe we can find her.” Miles took her hand again.
With her hand inside Miles’s, Shelby felt her face break into a genuine smile. One surprise after another. She dragged him forward in the alley just as Cam discarded the Announcer, turned a darkened corner, and was gone.
===Daniel on Trial===
Daniel rose from his chair, spread his wings, and beat them gently, hovering a few feet off the floor as the nine Scale angels in sinister black burlap cloaks swished into the ordinary mortal boardroom in suburban Dayton, Ohio. He bared his wings so they would know he was unarmed. The old angels filed in, barely looking at him as they took their seats on the golden benches that had been specially installed in the boardroom for the trial.
Come eight o’clock this morning, all evidence of this gathering would be gone.
“You may ground yourself,” the same voice boomed behind him—a faceless secretary Daniel would never see again.
He touched down on the industrial carpet and sat alone behind the long table facing the Scale. He watched the sunrise out the window, unbearably bored as each member ritually turned his back, flicked down the hood of his cloak, and revealed the gold insignia branded onto the back of his neck: each bore a seven-pointed star.
As if he cared. As if this display of the Scale’s so-called exclusivity raised them whatsoever in Daniel’s esteem. They were a parole board, plain and simple, albeit a heavenly one. The Scale was composed of power-hungry lesser angels—angels so far down the ranks that, before the Fall, the Throne might not even have been able to distinguish one of them from another. Sure, they had a measure of power now, but . . . Daniel would never have felt so superior to the Scale if they hadn’t made a point of playing superior to him.
“Daniel Grigori?” asked the Scale member Daniel thought of as Toad face. None of them had names. That was part of the Scale protocol, too—once an angel joined their sect, he discarded his individuality. The group, they felt, was more important than a single angel. And so, Scale members disavowed themselves of their given angelic names. They were part of a bigger force now, a single entity.
“Yes?” Daniel looked around the room and rolled his eyes, as if to say, Who else but me? “I am the one called Daniel Grigori.” He should have been used to their fussy procedures by now, but each trial irritated him all over again.
He had been called before the Scale many times over the years, though in the beginning there were so many other angels at the table with him that the procedure had been less painful. Now that Daniel was among a few remaining unsided souls, one of the few who had chosen neither the Throne nor Lucifer, the Scale had made him their pet project. They dragged him in on any excuse. He spent far too little time with Lucinda and far too much time tripped up in their bureaucracy. He resented them for that.
Toad face stood and read aloud from a heavy parchment scroll. “You are charged with coercion of an established Host of Heaven.”
“Come on,” Daniel said. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Did you not converse with Gabrielle Givens on the night of October the twenty-seventh, saying, and I quote” — here Toad face’s voice became brooding and affected — “Don’t you ever feel like it’s all worthless? Is it really any different back in Heaven than it was when we were kicked out?’” Toad face narrowed his warty old eyes. “We have many witnesses who can attest to this heretical statement.”
Daniel swallowed. “I said it. I was in a bad mood. Who cares? Gabbe would never give up her place in Heaven. If you don’t know that, you’re—”
“And why were you in such a ‘bad mood,’
“You know why!” Daniel shouted, rising from his chair, rising off the floor. He had had enough. His wings towered over them, dwarfing their small, silly, moonlight-blue wings, casting a shadow on their haughty old faces. A few Scale members reared back in their seats.
One rose and wagged a finger at him. “If you so dislike having to answer to us, there is one thing you can do: Learn from your mistakes, Mr. Grigori. Make the choice you should have made ages ago.”
Another took up the diatribe. “Instead you chose love. How very quaint.”
A third continued even as several of them came around the long table, even as they shrugged off their cloaks, which could double as straitjackets. “You were too weakened by foolish love to make the right choice before. But now you can correct your mistakes.”
Toad face finished: “Now you can do the thing you know you need to do!”
The four came at him from either side, their binding garments held forth, all of them smiling with anticipation. This, too, was almost part of their protocols: The Scale relished the punishments they inflicted on angels who didn’t heed them.
In that way, they were not so very different from those fallen they’d labelled demons.
“Never!” Daniel said, even as they leaped upon him, shackling him with their horrible black burlap straitjackets, from which there’d be no struggling free. “Never!” he repeated before the sleeves of the cloak wound themselves around his chest, his arms, his mouth.
He would not yield to the Scale. If they bound him up for a year, or for a thousand years. He would not renounce Lucinda.
Daniel awoke on a bed of withered peonies. Starlight seeped through the canopy of oak trees overhead. His body was stiff and cold, curled around the short stump of a tree instead of his love’s warm body.
How long had he slept? The petals beneath him were crushed and brown. He breathed in their frail decay. His fingertips still bore the black stamp of ash that had been Lucinda’s bones before her body flashed into flames. Perhaps he’d slept here a week, dreaming of nothing, gone from this world—but it wasn’t long enough. Daniel’s pain was so acute it felt extraordinarily large, vaster than his wingspan—as if his soul bore the weight of twenty men, each of whom had each lost their dearest lover. The desperate ache tightened into an absence where his heart was meant to be.
In the three months following his first Valentine’s Day with Lucinda, Daniel had brought her back here to this spot in the medieval English forest at least twenty times. Each time, during their walk across the village green into the cool recesses of the woods, Daniel would cause these Valentine’s peonies to bloom anew, so that when Lucinda stepped into the clearing, the flowers would be as vibrant and lovely and in bloom as Lucinda.
He looked at them now, dying, dead, and tore at a handful of damp, squashed petals. He recognized no power within himself to revive their delicate blossoms.
Daniel alternated between two different souls: one when Lucinda was alive and another when she was dead. He required her affection, the glory of her presence to be the best version of himself. He required her to add sweetness and light to the world.
Daniel winced as he tried to stand. His wings were stiff with tension and loss. He aimed to stretch and loosen as he left the forest, but with each step he was surprised to find his body only felt heavier, more depressed.
He wanted to connect with her memory, wanted to roam every street she’d ever roamed and search for traces of his love; he always wanted this after she died. It was never a good idea. This time, inexplicably, he indulged himself. He staggered back toward the walls of the village where she had lived. Crossing the dirt road, entering the bare market at midnight, turning down the narrow street where Lucinda’s family lived . . . all of it hurt more than he was prepared to with stand.
Three doors from her family home, Daniel saw the light inside their threshold and cried out in pain. He threw himself against the high stone wall of a neighbouring dwelling. Grief overtook him and his eyes blazed with hot tears.
At last he realized why.
The pain he felt at losing Lucinda was worsened by the pain her family felt at losing her. They loved her for who she truly was, loved her in a way similar to how Daniel loved her. Now they grieved like Daniel grieved, which made him grieve anew, knowing that he had separated her from good people who had cared for her.
Stealthily, he swept into the night sky and landed on the flat roof of the home where Lucinda’s family slept. He lay down on the packed mud brick sand spread his wings out below him, trying to feel their pain radiating through the roof.
It was the darkest hour of the morning and the village was asleep. But Daniel heard . . . or he felt . . . a woman weeping just below him. He traced the sound, creeping along the roof, then slinking down the side of the wall until he was just outside the small room where he knew Lucinda’s elder sister Helen slept with her husband.
They were newlyweds, fast asleep. Through dreams, no doubt of Lucinda, Helen was crying. Risking a peek inside the room, Daniel made out the shape of her husband’s arms around her, kissing her furrowed forehead, offering comfort even through his dreams.
They were in love. Daniel saw how very many things were different about the love between this man and wife and the love he shared with Lucinda. The love he witnessed tonight was steady and earthly and finite, whereas his love with Lucinda was tempestuous and transcendent and—for better or for worse—eternal. It was perplexing that both kinds of connection, both ways to express devotion could be called the same thing: Love.
And yet Daniel recognized one thing in the shape of this man’s arms around his wife: he would give anything, do anything, to lessen his lover’s pain.
Their drowsy kiss deepened and Daniel watched with unabashed fascination. He wished there was something he could do.
Daniel had shuffled many souls out of their bodies during his millennia on earth. He had sped their souls to peace and light in the unfathomable after life, the mortal equivalent of Heaven to which no angel had access.
But Daniel had never shepherded new life into the world.
It was beyond his powers, a gift only the Throne could give.
Only the Throne could remove all obstacles from mortal bodies and souls so that, in nine months, they would bring a hardy, happy child into the world.
Perhaps that was in store for these two lovers; Daniel could not tell. Even if they had a child of their own, it would never replace Lucinda. Her particular soul would bring joy to some other family in some faraway place, which Daniel would have to wait for and eventually find. He might have to wait decades, but he was used to that.
For now, any gift Daniel gave to this family would pale in comparison to what they had lost. His mind reached outwards, trying to take hold of something that would help him help them. In the distant forest bordering the town, his keen eyesight settled on a pair of goats grazing in the moonlight. Absurdly poor substitutions for Lucinda—and yet. . .
For this family, the goats’ milk would be rare to the point of exceptional.
Any sustenance or income these beasts might provide would bring some peace to them. They deserved that and so much more.
In an instant Daniel flew to the edge of the forest, retrieved the goats and shepherded them through the sky and to Lucinda’s family’s doorstep, where he tethered them with a length of rope.
No note. They could neither read nor understand his explanation. The simple gesture would have to suffice.
Glancing up at Lucinda’s sister’s window, Daniel bowed, humbled by the reality of the mortal world. Then he spread his wings and took to the sky, where he would stay until his love was settled into a new life that would bring him back to earth again.
Luce and Daniel’s Date
Luce looked around the quiet cave, surprised to find that the angels, demons, Outcasts, and the transeternals had all fallen fast asleep. The last thing she remembered was Dee’s instruction to wait until the moon hit the Qayom Malak in precisely the right place before the ceremony of the three relics could begin.
What time was it? Rays of sunlight streamed through the mouth of the cave.
A warm hand squeezed her shoulder. She turned and her hair brushed Daniel’s cheek. “By a stroke of luck, we find ourselves alone,” he laughed.
She grinned, whispered, “Let’s get out of here.”
They scrambled down the path, laughing like children, holding hands. When they rounded a curve on the path and found themselves looking out across a great vista of the endless desert, Daniel swept her up in his arms again.
“I can’t keep my hands off you.”
Luce kissed him greedily, let her hands fondle the white expanse of his wings. Like Daniel, they were strong and awe-inspiring and absolutely gorgeous. They rippled with pleasure under her hand. Daniel shuddered, exhaled deeply.
“Do you want to fly somewhere?” he asked.
Luce always wanted to be in the air with Daniel. She grinned. “Sure.
Wherever. I just want to be with you.”
He looked into the distance.
“If it’s all the same to you,” he said, “it might be nice to stay on the ground. I have this urge to let go of who we are. Just be two people, a boy and a girl, hanging out.”
He eyed her nervously until she let go of his wing to take his hand.
“I know what you mean. I’d love to.”
Daniel looked grateful as he rolled his shoulders forward, coaxing his enormous wings back into his shoulders. They retreated slowly, smoothly, until they’d become two small white shoots in the back of his neck. Then they were gone completely and Daniel was merely Daniel. When he smiled, Luce realized how long it had been since she’d seen him without his wings.
“It’ll be nice to keep our feet on the ground,” she said, looking down at her boots and Daniel’s sneakers, both caked with desert dust.
Daniel was looking over her shoulder, down into the dry plain below. “Or maybe just slightly off the ground.”
“What do you mean?” She spun around and stood on tiptoes to see where he was looking.
“Have you ever ridden a camel?”
“I don’t know,” she challenged him. “Have I?”
They named the camel Woody, because he looked like a 1970s Woody Allen, with his red, wavy unkempt mane—though he was seven feet tall, with a double hump and two crooked front teeth. They found him grazing at the foothills of Mount Sinai with two other less amusing camels. When Daniel laid a hand on his flank, Woody didn’t kick and snort at the invisible touch; he leaned in and nuzzled Luce’s unseen face, looking lovably paranoid.
“This is the one,” Daniel said.
“We can’t just take him! What if he belongs to someone?”
Daniel raised a hand to shield his eyes and made a show of looking across the vast ocean of sand. “We’re just borrowing him for the day.” He wove his fingers together and bent down to make a step for Luce with his hands. “Come on. Up you go.”
She laughed as she swung one leg over the camel, delighted by the feel of sliding down to the base of his back between his humps.
“How are you going to get up, normal boy?” she asked.
Daniel stared at the hump a foot over his head and scratched his chin. “Hadn’t thought of that.”
He asked for her hand and jerked himself up but lost his footing and landed on his back in the dirt.
“A temporary setback,” he grunted.
For the second attempt, he came around the other side and tried to hoist himself up like a swimmer climbing out of the deep end. He slipped and fell on his face. Woody spat.
“Okay,” Luce called, trying not to laugh. “Third time’s the charm!” The first two times had charmed her, too, and a fourth would charm her even more.
Daniel grunted again, and when he reached for her hand, Luce really put her back into pulling him up. She could feel his body rising from the ground and was surprised by how light he felt in her arms. He landed behind her, directly on the hump, in the splits, and bellowed with pain. Luce lost it.
She was laughing so hard it required an apology, which was tough to accomplish through a delirious convulsion. Daniel finally laughed when her fit of giggles almost sent her tumbling off the camel.
When they finally calmed down, Luce turned to look at Daniel. She
ran a finger across his lips. “It still feels like we’re flying.”
“I guess we always are.” Daniel kissed her finger, then her lips, and without coming up for air, gave Woody a gentle kick to get him moving.
Woody wasn’t a thoroughbred. They sauntered across the plain with the distant hope of reaching the ocean. It didn’t seem likely, but it also didn’t matter. Luce thought this endless stretch of packed brown sand looked like the most beautiful place on earth.
They rode in happy silence until something struck Luce. “I don’t think I ever have been on a camel before.”
“No.” She could hear the smile creep into in his voice. “You haven’t. At least, not when I’ve been around. Were you able to pull that from the memories of your past?”
“I think so. It’s weird, I searched for it, but—recently when my mind circles around a memory and finds something I’ve done before, I feel this warmth.” She shrugged. “Since I didn’t feel anything this time, I guess it means I haven’t had this experience before.”
“I’m impressed,” Daniel said. “Now how about you tell me about something for a change? Tell me about your time at Dover.”
“Dover?” That caught her by surprise. She would rather talk about any of the past lives she’d visited in the Announcers than her experience at Dover.
They passed a barren tree trunk, which looked like it hadn’t seen a leaf in centuries. They passed a dried-up river and a dirt path that didn’t lead anywhere. There was no one around to judge her. Only Daniel.
“It was three years of boredom followed by one catastrophe that left a boy I knew dead,” she said finally. “It makes me sick to think about because
“Trevor’s death wasn’t your fault.”
She swerved around to face him. “How did you know?”
“There was someone else behind it. Someone who knew you would feel terrible about that fire—and wanted you to. Someone who wanted you to believe that what happens inside you when you care for someone is fatal.” “Who would do that?” Luce whispered.
“Someone who wanted you never to fall in love. Someone jealous of what you and I have together.”
“A person died because of that jealousy, Daniel. An innocent boy who had nothing to do with our curse or our love.”
“I didn’t know it was happening. I would have stopped it. I’m sorry, Luce. I know you’ve suffered.”
Luce rubbed her forehead. “You’re saying the person behind Trevor’s death killed him so that I wouldn’t fall in love with you?”
“Only … it didn’t work.”
“No,” Daniel said. “It didn’t.”
“Because of the curse? It still brought us together—”
“Because no curse is stronger than our love.”
They climbed another mountain, then another. The sun beat down like hands upon their shoulders. They slid off Woody to walk to the edge of a cliff. The drop was steep and scary, but below them the ocean crashed against the shore, a fantastic bolt of blue after so much brown. They could never get down there without flying. But Luce looked at Daniel and Daniel looked at Luce, and they smiled, knowing they had made a pact: a simple date, no wings. That was fine with both of them.
“Come here.” Daniel touched a flat rock at the edge of the cliff, motioning for Luce to sit down. They watched the ocean for a moment, saw two back container ships like glaciers near the horizon.
“It feels like the world is ours today, doesn’t it?” Luce said sadly.
Daniel spun her to him, touched the tip of her nose with his. His hand parted the buttons on her jacket, then slipped under her shirt, caressing the small of her back.
He kissed her with a new brand of abandon. His touch was smooth and soft and desperate all at once. Her mouth bore down on his as he squeezed her, lifting her on top of him, burying his free hand in her hair. Their limbs overlapped, taut with expectation. Their mouths were hot and tangled. Luce felt dizzy and alive, as if their souls had twined together. It was almost too much to bear. She could never get enough. But she would try.
“I love you, Daniel,” Luce said between breaths.
“I love you, too,” he replied. “More than anything. More than—”
It sounded like thunder, the brewing of a dark tornado. Luce jumped awake inside the cave, where she must have fallen asleep on Daniel’s shoulder.…
Golden, British Columbia
March 21, 1992
Next time, I will have to give her up.
In this life, we’re already too far along. Our course is set. Our old disaster looms ahead. My pen quakes as I write these words:
I can’t save her.
It has been one month since she found me at the bookstore. One month since she introduced herself—this time she goes by Lucy, which is so quaint it is beyond sweet—blushing as she tucked her hair behind her ear before she shook my hand. One month of taking that hand in mine each afternoon when she returns home from school.
I have cherished every inch of her. I have savoured every pore of her soft skin and filled up too many sketchbooks with her hypnotizing eyes. Nothing is more bittersweet than this month of euphoria. It’s the same with each life’s love.
I’m a fool to savour it. Especially with the end so near.
Ages ago, Gabbe told me not to write this book. And there’s a long list of reasons why she’s right. I’ve been hunted for the things I wrote. Tried for heresy. I’ve gone mortal generations with a price on my head. Of course, right now the only reason that matters to me is this:
If I had never written The Watchers: Myth in Medieval Europe, Lucinda wouldn’t have stumbled across me restocking the shelves at the university library where her sister attends college. She never would have invited me to walk across the campus to meet Vera after class, never worked up the courage in those ten minutes to give me her phone number on the back of a drugstore receipt. We never would have ended up at her parents’ house later that night. Never walked through the drifts of snow on the path behind their cabin, talking for hours, laughing as if we’d known each other for centuries.
We would never have fallen in love.
And she wouldn’t be living her last days.
No. Even here, in these private pages, why do I continue to delude myself?
Lucinda would have found me regardless of my stupid book. Just like she always does. She would have tracked me down and followed me and lowered her defences with a rapidity she never understands. She would still have fallen in love. For the thousandth and the first time in her life.
And why not? It’s not torture for her . . . until the end.
It means it’s up to me to make the change.
Because, as Heaven is my witness, I can’t go on like this. The agony of one more loss will overwhelm me. Drive me mad. Having to watch her walk once more into the blaze of knowing—
Let these pages serve as a record: If it takes seventeen years to purge her from my soul—and I know it will—I’ll do it. The addiction will fade away. The pain of withdrawal has to ease.
Is it even possible? That someday love will loosen its grip on me? Until she’s only a memory, not a drug I have to have? It’s too hard to imagine, and it’s the only option I have left.
If I can do that for her, Lucinda will live a long and healthy life. She’ll do something she’s never done before: She’ll die old. She will love and blossom and find happiness. All these things she’s never known before. All without me.
It’s too late now, but it won’t always be. I have already begun the preparations for our next encounter seventeen years down the road.
How to save her. How to pull away.
Yesterday, I went to a meeting.
There was a flyer on the bus stop at the corner of Grand and Calgary: Twelve Steps to Overcoming Your Addiction. I was strung out and jittery after five hours of not seeing her. Five hours. It was all I could do to wait for her to get home from school so I could take her in my arms and—
Hold back. Because I always have to hold myself back. The moments when I haven’t have been the moments when she died. As soon as I kissed her, as soon as I did what I felt I was made to do, she was taken away from me.
Love. Vanishing. Into thin air.
I know all of this so well, but it has never gotten easier to control.
So, I memorized the address on the flyer. I got on the bus and I travelled some distance and I got off. I walked into the dim, low-ceilinged room in the annex of a church. I sat on a hard-folding chair in a small circle of grim-faced strangers. When it was my turn, I stood up. I cleared my throat and tried to ignore the burning itch of my wings when I said, Hello, my name is Daniel, and I am an addict.
They nodded and recognized me. They said: Tell us about your greatest high.
The other day. For example. I went further than usual with my drug of choice. A walk in the woods, that’s all. Snow falling, sun burning through the trees, and her. I’ll wager no one has ever felt more alive. It was like I couldn’t get enough. I knew that it could have turned ugly—I knew I was dancing with an overdose. But one tempting kiss was just so beautiful. The truth is, every time is exactly as intoxicating. Every moment surpasses metaphor.
They said: Now describe rock bottom.
Emptiness. Raw and consuming. From the first instant, I run out until the instant I get my hands on more. An absolute vacuum ripping through my body, pulling out anything vital I contained. Weight where there should be weightlessness. A withdrawal worse than Hell.
Then they said: So, is it worth it?
And I fell silent because it is all there is and no, it isn’t worth it.
And those bastards looked at me as if they got it.
It’s said in some circles that I have delusions of grandeur, but that is not the case. I recognized myself in all those sad souls around me at the meeting. My lost, forlorn expression mirrored each of theirs. Their skin was yellow and they smelled like Hell and their eyes were sunken with a kind of weak surrender. And every one of them was telling me it gets easier.
Not for me.
It wasn’t going to work. They spoke of romance with nostalgia, and in a way, I envy that. But the thing about these meetings is that their motto—their whole one day at a time approach—does not apply to me.
One day at a time for sixty more years is a drop in the bucket compared to what I’m looking at. An eternity of days without the one thing that completes me. A gaping emptiness without compare.
There was also the problem of God.
They said: Let Him restore you to sanity. Turn yourself over to Him.
And their faces—all that blatant disappointment—when I told them, frankly, that this is one trial God just isn’t going to help me through. I knew what they were thinking: In time, with a few more meetings and some straight, sober perspective, I’d surely come around. I wish I could.
On the bright side, I walked out of the meeting understanding one thing more clearly than I ever had before:
My addiction is not killing me. I’m the toxic thing that’s killing her.
I stepped into the shadows behind the church, let my wings slip forth, and opened them wide.
I had never felt so powerless. Even as I flew away, into the snow-white sky, above the blizzard they’d been expecting for days. My wings can’t save me.
My nature can’t save me. It’s my soul that has work to do. I must close its heavy door on her.
This life, I’ve already gone too far. There’ll be no stopping it now.
It’s beginning to snow again and I must sign off. There’s a skating party at Lucy’s house tonight. Vera invited all her friends, and I promised I would go.
This is it.
I’ll show up. I’ll know what’s coming. And I’ll love her right up until the very last moment. This will be the last Lucinda who ever dies at my hands.
Next time, I will give her up.