For Carol, my mom
When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.Genesis 6:1–2
In the dream, there’s sorrow. I feel it over everything else, a terrible grief that chokes me, blurs my sight, weighs down my feet as I move through the tall grass. I walk among pine trees up a gentle slope. It’s not the hillside from my vision, not the forest fire, not anyplace I’ve seen before. This is something new. Overhead the sky is a pure, cloudless blue. Sun shining. Birds singing. A warm breeze stirring the trees.
A Black Wing must be nearby, really nearby, if the raging grief is any indication. I glance around. That’s when I see my brother walking beside me. He’s wearing a suit, black jacket and everything: dark gray button-down shirt, shiny shoes, a striped silver tie. He gazes straight ahead, his jaw set in determination or anger or something else I can’t identify.
“Jeffrey,” I murmur.
He doesn’t look at me. He says, “Let’s just get this over with.” I wish I knew what he meant.
Then someone takes my hand, and it’s familiar, the heat of his skin, the slender yet masculine fingers enfolding mine. Like a surgeon’s hand, I once thought. Christian’s. My breath catches. I shouldn’t let him hold my hand, not now, not after everything, but I don’t pull away. I look up the sleeve of his suit to his face, his serious green gold-flecked eyes. And for an instant the sorrow eases.
You can do this, he whispers in my mind.
Bluebell’s not blue anymore. The fire has transformed Tucker’s 1978 Chevy LUV into a mix of black, gray, and rusty orange, the windows shattered by the heat, the tires missing, the interior a sickening blackened twist of metal and melted dashboard and upholstery. It’s hard to believe, looking at it now, that a few weeks ago one of my favorite things in the world was riding around in this old truck with the windows rolled down, letting my fingers trail through the air, sneaking glances over at Tucker just because I liked looking at him. This is where everything happened, pressed against Bluebell’s beat-up, musty seats. This is where I fell in love.
And now it’s all burned up.
Tucker’s staring at what’s left of Bluebell with grief in his stormy blue eyes, one hand resting on the scorched hood like he’s saying his final good-byes. I take his other hand. He hasn’t said a lot since we got here. We’ve spent the afternoon wandering through the burned part of the forest, searching for Midas, Tucker’s horse. Part of me thought this was a bad idea, coming out here again, looking, but when Tucker asked me to bring him here I said yes. I get it — he loved Midas, not only because he was a champion rodeo horse, but because Tucker had been there the night Midas was born, watched him take his first shaky steps, raised him and trained him and rode him on practically every horse trail in Teton County. He wants to know what happened to him. He wants closure.
I know the feeling.
At one point we came across the carcass of an elk, burned nearly to ash, which for an awful moment I thought was Midas until I saw the antlers, but that was all we found.
“I’m sorry, Tuck,” I say now. I know I couldn’t have saved Midas, no way I could have flown carrying Tucker and a full-grown horse out of the burning forest that day, but it still feels like my fault, somehow.
His hand tightens in mine. He turns and shows me a hint of dimple.
“Hey, don’t be sorry,” he says. I loop an arm around his neck as he pulls me closer. “I’m the one who should be sorry for dragging you out here today. It’s depressing. I feel like we should be celebrating or something. You saved my life, after all.” He smiles, a real smile this time, full of warmth and love and everything I could ask for. I tug his face down, finding all kinds of solace in the way his lips move over mine, the thump of his heart against my palm, the sheer steadiness and strength of this boy who stole my heart. For a minute I let myself get lost in him.
I failed at my purpose.
I try to push the thought away, but it lingers. Something twists inside me. A sharp gust of wind hits us, and the rain, which was drizzling on us before, starts to come down harder. It’s been raining for three solid days, ever since the fires. It’s cold, that kind of chilly damp that passes right through my coat. Fog rolls between the blackened trees.
Reminds me of hell, actually.
I pull away from Tucker, shivering.
God, I need therapy, I think.
Right. As if I can picture telling my story to a shrink, stretched out on a sofa talking about how I’m part angel, how all angel-bloods have this purpose we’re put on earth to fulfill, how on the day of my purpose I happened to bump into a fallen angel. Who literally took me to hell for about five minutes. Who tried to kill my mother. And how I fought him with a type of magical holy light. Then I had to fly off to save a boy from a forest fire, only I didn’t save him. I saved my boyfriend instead, but it turns out that the original boy didn’t need saving, anyway, because he’s part angel, too.
Yeah, somehow I have the feeling that my first visit to a therapist would end with me in a straitjacket getting comfy in my new padded cell.
“You okay?” Tucker asks quietly.
I haven’t told him about hell. Or the Black Wing. Because Mom says that when you know about Black Wings you’re more likely to draw their attention, however that works.
I haven’t told him about a lot of things.
“I’m fine. I’m just. .” What? What am I? Hopelessly confused? Completely screwed up?
I go with: “Cold.”
He hugs me, rubs his hands up and down my arms, trying to warm me. For a second I see that worried, slightly offended look he gets when he knows I’m not telling him the entire truth, but I stretch up and give him another kiss, a soft one, at the corner of his mouth.
“Let’s never break up again, okay?” I tell him. “I don’t think I could handle it.” His eyes soften. “It’s a deal. No more breaking up. Come on,” he says, taking my hand and leading me back to where my car is parked at the edge of the burned clearing. He opens my door for me, then runs around to the passenger side and gets in. He grins. “Let’s get the heck out of here.”
I love that he says heck.
I’ve totally had enough of hell.
It’s a different girl this year, sitting in the silver Prius in the parking lot of Jackson Hole High School on her first day of class. First off, this girl’s a blonde: long, wavy gold hair with subtle tints of red. She wears her hair in a tight ponytail at the base of her neck, and on top of that she’s crammed a gray fedora, which she hopes will come off as cool and vintage and will take some of the attention away from her hair. She looks sun-kissed — not tan exactly, but with a very definite glow. But it’s not the hair or the skin that I don’t quite recognize as my own when I peer into the rearview mirror. It’s the eyes. In those large blue-gray eyes is a brand-new knowledge of good and evil. I look older. Wiser. I hope that’s true.
I get out of the car. Overhead the sky is gray. Still raining. Still cold. I can’t help but scan the clouds, search around inside my own consciousness for any hint of sorrow that could mean there’s a bad angel lurking, even though Mom said Samjeeza’s unlikely to come after us right away. I injured him, and apparently it takes a while for Black Wings to heal, something to do with the way time works in hell. A day is a thousand years, a thousand years a day, something like that. I don’t pretend to understand it. I’m just glad we don’t have to hightail it out of Jackson and leave my entire life behind. At least for the time being.
No bad-angel vibes, so I look around the parking lot hoping to see Tucker, but he’s not here yet. Nothing left to do but head inside. I straighten the fedora one last time and start for the door.
My senior year awaits.
“Clara!” calls a familiar voice before I even make it three steps. “Wait up.” I turn to see Christian Prescott climbing out of his brand-new pickup truck. This one is black, huge, glinting silver at the wheels, the words MAXIMUM DUTY stamped onto the back.
The old truck, the silver Avalanche that used to be permanently parked on the edges of my visions, burned up in the forest too. That was not a good day to be a truck.
I wait as he jogs over to me. Just looking at him makes me feel weird, nervous, like I’m losing my balance. The last time I saw him was five nights ago when we were standing on my front porch, both of us drenched with rain and smeared with soot, trying to work up the nerve to go inside. We had so much craziness to figure out, but we never ended up doing it, which, I confess, is not Christian’s fault. He did call. A lot, those first couple days. But whenever I saw his name light up on my phone, part of me always froze, the proverbial deer in the headlights, and I wouldn’t pick up. By the time I finally did, we didn’t seem to know what to say to each other. It all boiled down to: “So, you didn’t need me to save you.” “Nope. And you didn’t need me to save you.” And we laughed awkwardly as if this whole purpose thing was some kind of a prank, and then we both fell silent, because really what is there to say? I’m sorry, I blew it, it looks like I messed up your divine purpose? My bad?
“Hi,” he says now, sounding out of breath.
“Nice hat,” he says, but his eyes go straight to my hair, like every time he sees me with the correct hair color it confirms that I’m the girl from his visions.
“Thanks,” I manage. “I’m going for incognito here.”
He frowns. “Incognito?”
“You know. The hair.”
“Oh.” His hand lifts like he’s going to touch the obnoxious strand of hair that’s already sprung loose from my ponytail, but instead closes into a fist, drops. “Why don’t you just dye it again?”
“I’ve tried.” I take a step back, tuck the runaway strand behind my ear. “The color won’t take anymore. Don’t ask me why.”
“Mysterious,” he says, and the corner of his mouth quirks up into a tiny smile that would have melted my heart to butter last year. He’s hot. He knows he’s hot. I’m taken. He knows I’m taken, and yet here he goes smiling and stuff. This irritates me. I try not to think about the dream I keep having this week, the way that Christian seems to be the only thing in the entire dream that keeps me from completely losing my mind. I try not to think about the words we belong together, those words that used to come to me over and over in my vision.
I don’t want to belong to Christian Prescott.
The smile fades, his eyes going serious again. He looks like he wants to say something.
“So, see you around,” I say, maybe a little too brightly, and start off toward the building.
“Clara—” He trots along after me. “Hey, wait. I was thinking that maybe we could sit together at lunch?”
I stop and stare at him.
“Or not,” he says with that laugh/exhale thing he does. My heart kicks into high gear. I’m not interested in Christian anymore, but my heart doesn’t seem to have gotten that message. Crap.
Some things change. Some things don’t, I guess.
Everybody notices my hair. Of course. I was hoping that they’d notice in a quiet way, a few whispers, some gossip for a couple days, then it’d blow over. But I’m two minutes into first-period French when the teacher makes me take off the hat, and then it’s like a nuclear blast.
“So pretty, so pretty,” Miss Colbert keeps saying, an eyelash away from coming right up and stroking my head. I stick with the story that Mom and I came up with earlier about Mom finding an amazing colorist in California this summer and paying some astronomical fee for her to transform me from orange nightmare to strawberry fabulous. Saying all that in high school — level French while pretending I don’t speak the language perfectly is an especially fun part of the morning. I’m ready to go home before nine a.m. Then I duck into AP Calculus, the bell rings, and it’s like the whole fiasco starts all over again. Your hair, your hair, so pretty. Then again, in third period art class, like they could all start drawing me and my amazing hair.
And fourth period, AP Government, is worse. Christian is there.
“Hi again,” he says as I stand in the doorway gawking at him.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. There are only around six hundred students at Jackson Hole High School, so the odds are in favor of us having a class together. Tucker’s supposed to be in this class too, last time I checked.
Where the— heck is Tucker this morning? Come to think of it, I haven’t seen Wendy either.
“You going to come in?” Christian asks.
I slide into the seat next to him and rummage around in my bag for my notebook and a pen. I take a deep breath and let it out slowly, roll my head from one side to the other to try to release some of the tension in my neck.
“Long day already?” he asks.
“You have no idea.”
Right then, Tucker breezes in.
“I’ve been looking for you all day,” I say as he claims the desk on the other side of me.
“Did you just get to school?”
“Yeah. Car trouble,” he says. “We have this old crap car that we use around the ranch, and it wouldn’t start this morning. If you thought my truck was junk, you should see this thing.”
“I never thought Bluebell was junk,” I tell him.
He clears his throat, smiles. “How about that? We’re in a class together, you and I, and I didn’t even have to bribe anybody this year.”
I laugh. “You bribed somebody last year?”
“Not officially,” Tucker admits. “I asked Mrs. Lowell, the lady in the office in charge of scheduling, real nice if she could get me into Brit. History. At the last minute, too, I mean like ten minutes before class started. I’m friends with her daughter, which helped.”
“But why. .?”
He laughs. “You’re cute when you’re slow.”
“Because of me? No way. You hated me. I was that yuppie California chick who insulted your truck.”
He grins. I shake my head in bewilderment.
“You’re crazy, you know that.”
“Aw, and here I thought I was being sweet and romantic and stuff.”
“Right. So, you’re friends with Mrs. Lowell’s daughter? What’s her name?” I ask with mock jealousy.
“Allison. She’s a nice girl. She was one of the girls I took to prom last year.”
“Well, she’s got red hair. I kind of have a thing for red hair,” he says. I punch him lightly on the arm. “Hey. I kind of have a thing for tough girls, too.” I laugh again. That’s when I feel the surge of frustration, so strong it wipes the smile right off my face.
This kind of thing’s been happening lately. Sometimes, usually when I least expect it, it’s as if I’m allowed access into other people’s heads. Like now, for instance, I can perceive Christian’s presence on the other side of me so keenly that it’s like he’s boring holes into me with his eyes. I don’t get what he’s thinking in words so much as what he feels — he notices how natural it is for me to fall into this easy conversation with Tucker. He wishes that I would joke around with him that way, that we could finally speak to each other, finally connect. He wants to make me laugh like that.