I was used to feeling like a freak at school. It’s not hard in a small town.
But I wasn’t used to feeling like a freak in my own room. But all I could see was fear reflected in the eyes of my mother and Delaney. Even Lucky looked more worried than usual, his little face scrunched into a frown with his bottom teeth poking out.
Gabriel, however, wasn’t worried. He was furious. “Ariella, do you understand how serious this is?” He grabbed my arms, jerking me towards him. ”You could have been killed. Samantha was this close to”–
“I know, I know. But it all worked out fine.” My cheeks burned worse than my frozen toes.
“You can’t take risks like that.” Ignoring my mother’s stare, he moved closer, his face inches from mine. The pale blue of his gaze was laced with faint strands of ocean blue. ”You can’t put yourself or Delaney in danger like that. It’s our job to protect you.”
Shivering, I turned my head. ”Stop worrying. You got us out of there, just like I thought you would.”
“No, I didn’t.” His whisper made my teeth chatter harder. ”You did.”
“She what?” Delaney squeezed Lucky until he yelped. My mother sagged against the wall and closed her eyes.
“Ariella flew us out of there.” Gabriel’s wings drooped. ”I didn’t have the strength.”
For a moment, we all stared at each other. Then the words fell from our lips like a million darts of fear and worry.
“But she can’t!” Lucky yelped. ”She only has five feathers!”
“She’s not an angel, she’s a human!” Delaney protested.
“But I saw you,” I argued, raising my voice above the others. My eyes probed Gabriel’s cool ones, searching for a hint of mirth. He had to be joking. In fact this one thing had to be a giant joke. It couldn’t be true. It just couldn’t. ”Your wings flew us.” Hysteric giggles burbled from my lips. ”You saved me. You did.”
He shook his head. ”No.”
I grabbed onto the edge of the bed as Delaney reached out for me, nearly dropping Lucky in the process. “But I saw you. It was like before…” I trailed off. ”I can’t have done it. It’s not possible.”
“It’s very possible.” We all turned towards my mom. Peeling herself off the wall, she swallowed hard before meeting my gaze. ”You’re stronger than you think, Ariella.”
“But how can you see me?” I inched closer to Delaney, wishing I was clutching onto Lucky instead of her. I needed something to hold. Something to feel. ”Before I was invisible.”
“Before I was just acting.” She eyed Gabriel. ”It wasn’t…time yet.” Her lips curved up in a smile even as the tears spilled over her lids. ”Ever since your father…let’s just say I’ve always had a thing for angels.”
“Is that why we sell so many of them?” I wrinkled my nose. ”Here I thought you were just a nerd.”
“You told me to earn my feathers. Maybe I just got enough brownie points so it wasn’t an issue.” Gabriel didn’t smile. No one did. ”I’m sorry, can we just move on?”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you.” Gabriel exhaled slowly, gritting his teeth. ”I have no idea what to move onto. You’ve totally disrupted everything. For the past hundreds of years, the end has always been the same. Every time. But now…”
Lucky narrowed his eyes at me. ”You’ve screwed it up.”
“I didn’t screw anything up!” I pointed to Delaney. ”She’s safe, Mom’s safe, Samantha’s floating in a river of Holy Water. We’re good to go! It’ll be sun rise before they get their strength back. And then we can fight them in the sun, just like you suggested. I’ll be back in school by Friday.” Gabriel and my mother exchanged glances. ”Monday?” I squeaked.
Lucky swiveled around and growled at Gabriel. ”She still doesn’t know.”
“I didn’t see any point in telling her when the entire order of things is shaken up,” Gabriel growled back. For an angel, he looked pretty menacing.
“Well she has to know.” Mom crossed her arms. ”Without her, none of us are safe.”
“We’re still not safe?” Delaney squeaked, using Lucky like a human shield. ”Oh my God, what’s next?”
Gabriel held out his hand. i hesitated, staring down at his palm. It was smooth. Not a single line crossed it.
Ignoring the pit in my stomach, I took his hand and grabbed a handful of feathers from his back.
Pressing my nose against the glass window, I narrowed my eyes. She was there–flaming red hair, tired green eyes. Her laugh lines were ironed into her, creasing skin that had been as pale and smooth as cream.
Not even the lantern could hide the shadows under her eyes as she moved from display to display. She adjusted the tags on the angels and carefully brushed their shimmering wings. The door jingled and she turned. Her frown melted away instantly. Beaming, she leaped into a tall man’s arms. His hair was white, sticking straight up like a dandelion.
Just like mine.
I turned my head, focusing on the ground as she greeted him. She broke the kiss and stared up at him.
“I missed you.”
“I missed you too.” He smoothed back her hair. ”But I’ve got a surprise for you.”
“A surprise?” She clapped her hands. ”What is it?”
He held out his hand and winked. ”You’ll have to come with me to find out.”
Giggling, she took his hand and vanished into the back. The lights flickered, dimming to darkness before flashing back on. My mother stood in the middle of the store, alone.
Well, except for her enormous stomach. Humming to herself, she dusted various angels, a small smile on her lips. The door chimed and she whirled around. The smile faded. Samantha stood in the doorway and smirked.
“He’s not coming, is he?” My mother’s shoulders fell.
“He’s been called…away.” Samantha’s eyes glittered. ”But you can come with him.” Her gaze shifted to my mother’s stomach. ”For a price.”
My mother shook her head. ”You took him, didn’t you?” Tears streamed down her cheeks. ”He told me who you are. He told me what you wanted. He left to fight…”
“He didn’t fight too hard.” Samantha threw a velvet box to her. It bounced off her stomach, rolling onto the carpet. She crossed her arms and waited. My mother looked down at the box, then at her stomach. Samantha grinned.
Her smile faded as my mother carefully bent and scooped up the box as elegantly as a singer collecting a rose off stage. ”He would have done anything to keep you safe,” she hissed, her eyes flickering red. ”He was only too happy to order his services if I promised I’d leave you alone.”
My mother opened the box. Swallowing a sob, she lifted a silver locket around her neck. Flicking it open, she fingered the small white feather inside. ”Will I ever see him again?”
Samantha bared her teeth. ”Of course. For a price.” She eyed my mother’s stomach, licking her lips. ”I’d hate to tear apart true love after all.” She laughed. ”You should have seen the way he cried for you…screamed your name.” Stepping closer, she reached toward my mother’s bump. My mother stepped away, cradling her stomach with her arms. ”I’d be happy to return him, memories and all. There’s just one little thing I want in exchange….”
“You want my child?” My mother’s voice cracked.
Samantha grimaced. ”I don’t want your child. What would I do with a child?” Flicking back her dark hair, her eyes glistened. ”I want her soul.”
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