on the dining table. I picked sprigs of pungent pine from the yard and arranged them in a slender vase. I noticed there was some junk mail in the mailbox and made a mental note to purchase one of the No Junk Mail stickers I’d seen displayed on some of the other mailboxes in the street. I glanced at one of the leaflets before dropping them into the trash and saw that a new sports store had opened in town. It was called, rather unoriginally, I thought, SportsMart, and was advertising its opening sale.

It felt strange to be carrying out ordinary tasks when my whole existence was so far from ordinary. I wondered what other seventeen-year-old girls were doing at that moment — cleaning their bedrooms at the behest of frustrated parents, listening to their favorite bands on their iPods, sending each other text messages to make plans for the weekend, checking their e-mails when they should be studying?

We’d been given homework in at least three subjects and I’d written it down diligently in my school planner, unlike many of my fellow students who seemed happy to rely on memory. I told myself I should start it now in order to be prepared for the following day, but I knew that it would take hardly any time and was unlikely to pose any intellectual challenge. In short, it would be drop-dead easy. I’d know the answer to any question asked, so going through the motions of homework seemed like a tedious waste of time. Nevertheless, I hauled my school bag up to my room. My bedroom was the loft at the very top of the stairs, facing the sea. Even with the windows shut you could hear the sound of waves crashing over rocks. There was a narrow lacework balcony with a wicker chair and table that looked out over the sea where boats bobbed rhythmically on the water. I sat there for a while, highlighter in hand, my psychology textbook open in front of me on a page titled, “Galvanic Skin Response.”

I desperately needed to keep my mind occupied, if for no other reason than to stop thinking about my encounters with Bryce Hamilton’s school captain. Everything seemed to stay with me — his piercing eyes and his tie slightly askew. Molly’s words kept echoing in my mind: I wouldn’t go for him if I were you. .. He’s got baggage. But why was I so intrigued? As much as I wanted to shut him out of my mind, I couldn’t seem to. I would make myself think of other things, but before long there he was again, his face floating across the page I was trying to read, the image of a smooth hand wearing a plaited leather wristband cutting across my thoughts. I wondered what Emily had been like; what it felt like to lose someone you loved.

I made a pretense of tidying my room before wandering down to the kitchen to offer Gabriel some help with dinner. He’d continued to surprise Ivy and me by throwing himself wholeheartedly into the task of cooking for us all. Part of his motivation was our well-being, but he also found the handling and preparation of food fascinating. Like music, it provided him with a creative outlet. When I walked in, he was standing at the white marble workbench, cleaning an assortment of mushrooms with a checked dish towel and occasionally frowning as he referred to a cookbook propped open on a metal stand. Soaking in a small bowl were what looked like pieces of black bark. Over his shoulder I read the title of the recipe: “Mushroom Risotto.” It looked ambitious for a beginner, but then I reminded myself that this was the Archangel Gabriel. He excelled at everything without needing to practice.

“Hope you like mushrooms,” he said, seeing the curiosity in my face.

“I guess we’re about to find out,” I replied, sitting down at the table. I liked watching Gabriel work and was always struck by the deftness and precision of his movements. Under his touch, ordinary things seemed transformed. The transition from angel to human had been much smoother for Gabe and Ivy; they seemed removed from the trivialities of life, but at the same time seemed to know exactly what they were doing. They were used to being able to sense each other in the Kingdom, a skill that had followed them on our mission. They found me much trickier to read and it worried them.

“Would you like some tea?” I asked, wanting to make some kind of contribution. “Where’s Ivy?”

She walked in just at that moment, wearing linen pants and a tank top, her hair damp from the shower. Already there was something different about my sister. She had lost some of her dreaminess, and there was a purpose in her face I hadn’t seen before. She seemed to have other things on her mind, because as soon as I’d poured the tea, she excused herself from our company. I’d also caught sight of her recently scribbling page upon page in a notebook.

“Is Ivy okay?” I asked Gabriel once she’d gone.

“She just wants to get things rolling,” he said. I didn’t know or ask exactly how Ivy planned to do this, but I was envious of her sense of purpose. When would I discover mine? When would I have the satisfaction of knowing I’d done something really worthwhile?

“Get things rolling how?”

“You know your sister’s never short on ideas. She’ll come up with something.” Was Gabriel being deliberately mysterious? Did he realize how much in the dark I felt?

“What should I do?” I asked, hating the way I sounded so petulant.

“That will come to you,” said my brother. “Give yourself some time.”

“And in the meantime?”

“Didn’t you say you wanted to experience being a teenager?” He gave me an encouraging smile, and as always, my unease dissolved.

I peered into the bowl with the black strips floating in gritty liquid.

“Is this bark part of the recipe?”

“Those are porcini mushrooms — they need soaking before you can use them.”

“Mmm… they look delicious,” I lied.

“They’re considered a delicacy. Don’t worry, you’ll love them.”

I passed Gabriel his mug of tea and continued to entertain myself by watching him. I gasped when the sharp paring knife he was using slipped from his grasp, slicing open the top of his index finger. The sight of blood shocked me — a frightening reminder of how vulnerable our bodies were. Warm, crimson blood was so human and seeing it spill from my brother’s hand seemed so unnatural. But Gabriel hadn’t even flinched. He just brought his bleeding finger to his mouth and when he withdrew it any trace of injury had disappeared. He washed his hands with the soap from the dispenser on the sink and went back to his methodical slicing.

I picked up a piece of celery that was destined for the salad and chewed absently on it. Celery, I decided, must be more about texture than taste as it didn’t really have much flavor, but it was certainly crunchy. Why anyone would eat it voluntarily was beyond me, apart from its nutritional value. Good nutrition meant a healthier body and a longer life. Humans were inordinately afraid of death, but I supposed we couldn’t expect anything else from them given their lack of knowledge about what lay beyond. They would find out in due course that there was nothing to fear.

Gabriel’s dinner turned out to be the usual success. Even Ivy, who took no real pleasure in food, was impressed.

“Another culinary triumph,” she said after the first forkfull.

“Amazing flavors,” I added. Food was just another wonder the earth had to offer. I couldn’t help marveling at how every food could have such a different texture and flavor — bitter, sour, salty, creamy, tangy, sweet, spicy — sometimes more than one at the same time. Some of them I liked and some made me want to wash my mouth out — but everything was a unique experience.

Gabriel modestly dismissed our praise, and talk turned once again to the events of the day.

“Well, that’s one day down. I think it went well, although I hadn’t expected to find so many musical students.”

“I think you’ll find a lot of them developed an interest in music once they saw you.” Ivy said with a smile.

“Well, at least it gives me something to work on,” Gabe replied. “If they can find beauty in music, they can find beauty in one another and the world too.”

“But aren’t you bored in class?” I asked Gabe. “I mean, you already have access to all human knowledge.”

“I expect he wasn’t really concentrating on the content,” Ivy said. “He would have been trying to pick up on other things.” Sometimes my sister had an infuriating way of speaking in riddles she just expected everyone else to understand.

“Well, I was bored,” I persisted. “Especially in chemistry. I’ve decided it really isn’t my thing.” Gabriel gave a low chuckle at my choice of words.

“Well, you’ll just have to find out what is your thing. Try things out and see what you like best.”

“I like literature,” I said. “We started watching the film version of Romeo and Juliet

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