I didn’t tell them this, but the love story fascinated me. The way the lovers fell so deeply and irrevocably in love after their first meeting sparked a burning curiosity in me about what human love might feel like.

“How are you finding that?” Ivy asked.

“It’s very powerful, but the teacher got really mad when one of the boys said something about Lady Capulet.”

“What did he say?”

“He called her a MILF, which must be offensive because Miss Castle called him a thug and sent him out of the room. Gabe, what is a MILF?”

Ivy smothered her smile behind a napkin while Gabriel did something I’d never seen before. He blushed and shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

“Some acronym for a teenage obscenity, I imagine,” he mumbled.

“Yes, but do you know what it means?”

He paused, trying to find the right words.

“It’s a term used by adolescent males to describe a woman who is both attractive and a mother.” He cleared his throat and got up quickly to refill the water jug.

“I’m sure it must stand for something,” I pressed.

“It does,” Gabriel said. “Ivy, can you remember what it is?”

“I believe it stands for ‘mother I’d like to… befriend,’ ” said my sister.

“Is that all?” I exclaimed. “What a fuss over nothing. I really think Miss Castle needs to chill.”


Small Miracles

With dinner over and the dishes washed, Gabriel took a book out onto the veranda even though the light was already fading, while Ivy continued to clean, wiping down surfaces that already looked immaculate. She was starting to come across as obsessive in her desire for cleanliness, but it might have just been her way of feeling closer to home. I looked around the room for something I could do. In the Kingdom time didn’t exist and therefore didn’t need to be filled. Finding things to do was very important on earth; it was what gave life purpose.

Gabriel must have sensed my unease because he seemed to change his mind about reading and poked his head back through the door.

“Why don’t we all go for a walk and watch the sunset?” he suggested.

“Great idea.” I felt my mood lift immediately. “You coming, Ivy?”

“Not until I go upstairs and get us something warmer to wear,” she said. “It gets very cold in the evening.”

I rolled my eyes at her display of caution. I was the only one who got cold, and I’d already put my coat on. Ivy and Gabriel had trained their bodies to maintain normal temperature on previous visits, but I still had a long way to go.

“You’re not even going to feel the cold,” I objected.

“That’s not the point. We may be seen not feeling the cold and draw attention.”

“Ivy’s right,” said Gabe. “Best to play it safe.” He disappeared upstairs, returning with two bulky jackets.

Our house was set high on the hill, so we had to meander our way down a series of sandy wooden steps before reaching the beach. The steps were so narrow that we had to walk single file. I couldn’t help thinking how much more convenient it would be if we could just release our wings and swoop down to the sand below. I didn’t articulate my thought to either Gabriel or Ivy, certain of the lecture that would follow if I did. I knew how dangerous flight was under the circumstances, a surefire way of blowing our cover. So we took mortal steps, all one hundred and seven of them, before reaching the shore.

I threw off my shoes to savor the feel of the silky grains beneath my feet. There was so much to notice on earth. Even the sand was complex, shifting in color and texture and quite iridescent in places where the sun hit it. Aside from the sand, I noticed that the beach held other small treasures: pearly shells, fragments of glass worn smooth by the motion of the water, the occasional half-buried sandal or an abandoned shovel, and tiny white crabs that scuttled in and out of little pea-size holes in the rock pools. Being so close to the ocean was thrilling for the senses — it seemed to roar like a living thing, filling my mind with noise that subsided and reared up again unexpectedly. The sound hurt my ears, and the sharp, salty air scratched my throat and nose. The wind whipping against my cheeks left them pink and stinging. But I was growing to love every minute of it — every part of being human brought with it some new sensation.

We walked along the shore, chased by the frothy waves of the tide coming in. Despite my recent resolve to exercise greater self-control, I couldn’t resist the sudden impulse to splash Ivy with my foot. I watched to see whether she might be annoyed, but she only checked to see that Gabriel was far enough ahead not to notice before aiming a retaliatory kick in my direction. It sent an arc of water into the air, which scattered like jewels over my head. Our laughter drew Gabriel’s attention, and he shook his head in wonder at our antics. Ivy winked at me and gestured in his direction. I knew what she had in mind and was more than happy to comply. Gabriel hardly noticed the extra weight when I jumped on his back and wrapped my arms around his neck. Supporting my weight with ease, he began running along the beach so fast the wind made a whistling noise in my ears. On his back I felt more like my old self again. I felt closer to Heaven and could almost believe I was flying.

Gabriel stopped abruptly and I let go of him, landing with a thud on the wet sand. He picked up some slimy strips of seaweed and lobbed them at Ivy, hitting her squarely in the face. She wrinkled her nose as the taste of the salty, bitter tendrils filled her mouth.

“Just you wait,” she spluttered. “You’re going to regret that!”

“I don’t think so,” Gabriel teased. “You’d have to catch me first.”

At sunset there were still a few people on the main beach, catching the last weak rays of the day before the icy wind sprang up, just as Ivy had predicted, or quietly enjoying picnic dinners. A mother and child were packing up nearby. The child, who couldn’t have been more than five or six, ran up to her mother tearfully. There was a swelling on her tiny plump arm, probably the result of an insect bite, which she had further inflamed by rubbing. The child cried even harder while her mother rummaged helplessly in her bag for some ointment. She brought out a tube of aloe gel but couldn’t calm her wriggling daughter enough to actually apply it.

The mother looked grateful as Ivy bent to comfort the child. “That’s a nasty bite,” she crooned softly.

The sound of her voice soothed the girl instantly, and she stared up at Ivy as if she were someone she’d known all her life. Ivy opened the tube and dabbed some ointment on the inflamed skin. “This should help,” she said. The child stared at her in awe, and I saw her eyes flicker to the space above her head, where her halo was. It was usually only visible to us. Was it possible that the little girl, with a child’s heightened awareness, may have sensed Ivy’s aura?

“Feel better?” Ivy asked.

“Much better,” the girl agreed. “Did you use magic?”

Ivy laughed. “I have a magic touch.”

“Thanks for your help,” said the young mother, watching in confusion as the redness and swelling on her child’s arm faded before her eyes until there was nothing but smooth, unblemished skin. “That’s some gel.”

“You’re welcome,” said Ivy. “Amazing what science can do these days.”

Without lingering further, we moved on down the beach toward the township.

By the time we reached the main street, it was about nine o’clock, but there were still people around even though it was a weeknight. The town center was a quaint place, full of antique shops and cafes that served tea and iced cakes on mismatched china. The shops had all closed save for the one pub and the ice cream parlor. We had barely walked a few feet when I heard a high-pitched voice calling out, carried over the chords of the banjo-playing busker on the street corner.

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