“Good night, Bethany,” the voice of Xavier Woods whispered. “Sweet dreams.”

“Good night, Xavier,” I said dreamily, but when I opened my eyes I found the room was empty. Then my eyelids were too heavy to keep open, and the dim lamplight and the sound of the sea faded away as a deep and peaceful sleep overcame me.


French Class

Someone was calling my name. Even though I tried to ignore it, the voice persisted and I was forced to surface from the warm, shadowy depths of sleep.

“Wake up, sleepyhead!”

I opened my eyes and saw morning light spilling into the room like warm liquid gold. I squinted, sat up, and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. Ivy was standing at the foot of my bed with a cup in her hand.

“Try this, it’s awful but it wakes you up.”

“What is it?”

“Coffee — a lot of humans think they can’t function properly without it.”

I sat up and sipped at the bitter, black brew, resisting the urge to spit it out. I wondered how people could actually pay money to drink it, but it didn’t take long for the caffeine to hit my bloodstream, and I had to admit that I did feel more alert.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“Time you were up.”

“Where’s Gabe?”

“I think he’s gone for a run. He was up at five this morning.”

“What’s wrong with him?” I groaned, pushing back my covers reluctantly and sounding like a bona fide teenager.

I shook out my hair and ran a comb through it before washing my face and traipsing downstairs to the kitchen. Gabriel, back from his run, was cooking breakfast. He had just showered and combed his wet hair back from his forehead, which gave him a leonine look. He wore only a towel wrapped around his hips, and his taut body gleamed in the morning sun. His wings were contracted and looked like nothing more than a rippling line between his shoulder blades. He was standing by the stove, holding a stainless steel spatula.

“Pancakes or waffles?” he asked. He didn’t have to turn around to determine who had come into the room.

“I’m actually not very hungry,” I said apologetically. “I think I’ll skip breakfast and have something later.”

“No one leaves this house on an empty stomach.” He sounded implacable on the subject. “So what’ll it be?”

“It’s too early, Gabe! Don’t make me, I’ll be sick!” I sounded like a child trying to get out of eating my Brussels sprouts.

Gabriel looked offended. “Are you suggesting my cooking makes people sick?”

Oops. I tried to rectify my mistake. “Of course not. I just…”

My brother put his hands on my shoulders and looked at me intently. “Bethany,” he said, “do you know what happens when the human body isn’t fueled properly?”

I shook my head irritably, knowing he was about to present facts I wouldn’t be able to argue with.

“It can’t function. You won’t be able to concentrate and you might even feel light-headed.” He paused to allow the impact of his words to register. “I don’t think you want to faint on your second day of school, do you?”

This had the effect he hoped it would. I slumped unceremoniously into a chair, visualizing myself keeling over from lack of nutrition and a host of concerned faces looking down at me. Maybe even the face of Xavier Woods, suddenly wanting nothing to do with me.

“I’ll have the pancakes,” I said glumly, and Gabriel turned back to the stove with a satisfied look.

Breakfast was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell, and I wondered who could be calling at such an unconventional hour. We had been careful to steer clear of the neighbors and thwart any offers of friendship. We must have appeared stand-offish compared to the locals.

Ivy and I looked at Gabriel expectantly. He was able to sense the thoughts of those around him, a useful talent in many circumstances. Ivy’s celestial gift was her healing hands. My gift was yet to be determined — apparently it would surface when the time was right.

“Who is it?” Ivy mouthed.

“The woman from next door,” Gabriel said. “Ignore her, and she might go away.”

We sat very still and silent, but our neighbor was not the type to be easily dissuaded. Gabriel left the kitchen and returned wearing a pair of freshly laundered jeans. A few minutes later we were surprised to hear the click of the side gate, and next thing we knew she was at the window, waving at us enthusiastically. I was outraged by the intrusion, but my siblings maintained their composure.

Gabriel went to open the door and came back followed by a woman somewhere in her fifties with platinum blond hair and a bronzed face. She was wearing a lot of gold jewelry, bright lipstick, and a velour tracksuit. Tucked under her arm was a large paper bag. She looked dazed for a moment when she saw all three of us together. I couldn’t blame her; it must have been an unnerving sight.

“Hello there,” she said in a bright voice with a Southern drawl, leaning across the table to shake our hands. “I’d check out that doorbell if I were you — it doesn’t seem to be workin’. I’m Dolores Henderson from next door.”

Gabriel took care of the introductions, and Ivy, ever the perfect hostess, offered her a cup of tea or coffee and set a plate of muffins on the table. I saw Mrs. Henderson eyeing Gabriel in much the same way as the girls at school had.

“Oh, no, thank you,” she said in response to the offer of food. “I’m watching my caloric intake. I just wanted to pop over and say hello now that you’re all settled in.” She set the paper bag down on the countertop. “Thought you might enjoy some homemade jam, I’ve popped in an apricot as well as a fig and strawberry — I wasn’t sure what you’d like.”

“That’s very kind of you, Mrs. Henderson.” Ivy was all politeness, but I could see Gabriel bristling with impatience.

“Oh, call me Dolly,” she said. “You’ll find we’re all like that around here — very neighborly.”

“That’s good to hear,” Ivy said.

I marveled at how she seemed to have a ready response for every circumstance. As for me, a few moments later, I’d already forgotten the woman’s name.

“You’re the new music teacher at Bryce Hamilton, aren’t you?” persisted Mrs. Henderson. “I have a very musical niece who is keen to take up the violin. That’s your instrument, isn’t it?”

“One of them,” Gabriel replied distantly.

“Gabriel plays several instruments,” said Ivy, flashing him an exasperated look.

“Several! Oh my, how talented you must be,” Mrs. Henderson exclaimed. “I hear you playin’ most nights from my porch. Are you two girls musical as well? What a good brother you are to take care of your sisters with your parents away.”

Ivy sighed, the news of our arrival and our personal story seemed to have become town gossip very quickly.

“Will your folks be joinin’ you anytime soon?” Mrs. Henderson asked, looking around nosily, as if expecting a set of parents to jump out of the cupboards or drop from the ceiling.

“We hope to see them soon,” Gabriel said, his eyes flicking to the clock.

Dolores waited expectantly for him to elaborate, and when he didn’t, she pursued another line of questioning. “Do you know anyone in town yet?” It amused me to watch how the more she tried prying information out of him,

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