experiencing a roller coaster of sensations all at once. Sometimes the sensations crossed over and shifted like sand so the end result was total confusion. I knew I was supposed to detach myself from all things emotional, but I hadn’t worked out how. I marveled at how ordinary humans managed to live with such turmoil bubbling below the surface all the time — it was draining. I tried to hide my difficulties from Gabriel; I didn’t want to prove him right or have him thinking less of me because of my struggles. If my siblings ever experienced anything similar, they were expert at suppressing it.

Ivy suggested she go and lay out my uniform and find a clean shirt and pants for Gabe. As a member of the teaching staff, Gabriel was required to wear a shirt and tie, and the idea wasn’t exactly appealing to him. He usually wore loose jeans and open-neck sweaters. Anything tight made us feel too constricted. Clothes in general gave us a strange feeling of being trapped, so I sympathized with Gabriel as he came back downstairs squirming in the crisp white shirt that hugged his well-built chest and tugging at the tie until he’d sufficiently loosened the knot.

Clothing wasn’t the only difference; we’d also had to learn to perform grooming rituals like showering, brushing our teeth, and combing our hair. We never had to think about such things in the Kingdom, where existence was maintenance free. Life as a physical entity meant so much more to remember.

“Are you sure there’s a dress code for teachers?” Gabriel asked.

“I think so,” Ivy replied, “but even if I’m wrong, do you really want to be taking a chance on the first day?’

“What was wrong with what I had on?” he grumbled, rolling up his shirtsleeves in an attempt to liberate his arms. “It was comfortable, at least.”

Ivy clicked her tongue at him and turned to check that I’d put on my uniform correctly.

I had to admit that it was fairly stylish as far as uniforms went. The dress was a flattering pale blue with a pleated front and a white Peter Pan collar. With it we were required to wear knee-high cotton socks, brown buckle- up shoes, and a navy blazer with the school crest emblazoned in gold on the breast pocket. Ivy had bought me pale blue and white ribbons, which she now weaved deftly into my braids.

“There,” she said with a satisfied smile. “From celestial ambassador to local school girl.”

I wished she hadn’t used the word ambassador—it was unnerving. It carried so much weight, so many expectations. And not the sort of expectations humans had of their children to clean their rooms, babysit their siblings, or complete their homework. These were the kind of expectations that had to be met, and if they weren’t… well, I didn’t know what would happen. My knees felt as if they might buckle underneath me at any minute.

“I’m not so sure about this, Gabe,” I said, even as I realized how erratic I must sound. “What if I’m not ready?”

“That choice is not ours,” Gabriel replied with unfailing composure. “We have only one purpose: to fulfil our duties to the Creator.”

“I want to do that, but this is high school. It’s one thing observing life from the sidelines, but we’re going to be thrown right in the thick of it.”

“That’s the point,” Gabriel said. “We can’t be expected to make a difference from the sidelines.”

“But what if something goes wrong?”

“I’ll be there to make it right.”

“It’s just that the earth seems like such a dangerous place for angels.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

The dangers I imagined weren’t merely physical. These we’d be well equipped to handle. What worried me was the seduction of all things human. I doubted myself, and I knew that could lead to losing sight of my higher purpose. After all, it had happened before with dire consequences — we’d all heard the dreadful legends of fallen angels, seduced by the indulgences of man, and we all knew what had become of them.

Ivy and Gabriel observed the world around them with a trained eye, aware of the pitfalls, but for a novice like me the danger was enormous.


Venus Cove

The Bryce Hamilton School was located on the outskirts of town, set high on the peak of an undulating slope. No matter where you were in the building, you looked out to see a view: either vineyards and verdant hills with the odd grazing cow, or the rugged cliffs of the Shipwreck Coast, so named for the many vessels that had sunk in its treacherous waters over the last century. The school, a limestone mansion complete with arched windows, sweeping lawns, and a bell tower, was one of the town’s original buildings. It had once served as a convent before it was converted to a school in the sixties.

A flight of stone steps led to the double doors of the main entrance, which was shadowed by a vine-covered archway. Attached to the main building was a small stone chapel; the occasional service was still held there, we were told, but mostly it served as a place for students in need of refuge. A high stone wall surrounded the grounds, and spiked iron gates stood open to allow cars access to the gravel driveway.

Despite its archaic exterior, Bryce Hamilton had a reputation for moving with the times, and was favored by progressive parents who wanted to avoid subjecting their children to any kind of repression. Most of the students had a long-standing association with the school through parents and grandparents who were former pupils.

Ivy, Gabriel, and I stood outside the gates watching the students arrive. I concentrated on trying to settle the butterflies that were doing callisthenics in my stomach. The sensation was uncomfortable and yet strangely exhilarating. I was still getting used to the way emotions could affect the human body. I took a deep breath. It was funny how being an angel didn’t make me any more prepared for the first-day nerves of starting somewhere new. I didn’t have to be human to know that first impressions could make all the difference between acceptance and ostracism. I’d listened in on the prayers of teenage girls and most of them centered on being accepted by the “popular” crowd and finding a boyfriend who played on the rugby team. I just hoped I would find a friend.

The students came in groups of three and four: the girls dressed just like me; the boys wearing gray trousers, white shirts, and blue-and-white-striped ties. Even in school uniform, it wasn’t difficult to distinguish the particular social groups I’d observed in the Kingdom. The music posse was made up of boys with shoulder-length hair, untidy strands falling over their eyes. They carried instrument cases and had musical chords scrawled on their arms in black felt pen. There was a small minority of goths who had set themselves apart by the use of heavy eye makeup and spiky hairdos, and I wondered how they got away with it. Surely it must contravene school regulations. Those who liked to think of themselves as artistic had accessorized the uniform with berets or hats and colorful scarves. Some girls traveled in packs, like a group of platinum blondes who crossed the road with their arms linked. The academic types were easily identified; they wore pristine uniforms with no alterations and carried the official school backpack. They tended to walk with a missionary zeal, heads down, eager to reach the sanctity of the library. A group of boys in untucked shirts, loose ties, and sneakers loitered under the shade of some palms, taking swigs from soda cans and chocolate milk cartons. They were in no hurry to move inside the school gates, instead taking turns at punching and leaping on one another. They tumbled to the ground laughing and groaning at the same time. I watched one boy throw an empty can at his friend’s head. It bounced off and rattled on the sidewalk. The boy looked stunned for a moment before bursting into laughter.

We watched with growing consternation and still hadn’t moved from our position outside the front gates. A boy sauntered past us and looked back with curiosity. He was wearing a baseball cap backward and his school pants hung so loosely on his hips that the label of his designer underwear was in full view.

“I must admit, I struggle with some of these latest fashion trends.” Gabriel pursed his lips.

Ivy laughed. “This is the twenty-first century,” she said. “Try not to look so critical.”

“Isn’t that what teachers do?”

“I suppose so, but don’t expect to be popular.” She looked resolutely toward the entrance and stood a little straighter even though she already had perfect posture. It was easy for her to be confident; she wasn’t the one facing the firing squad. Ivy squeezed Gabriel’s shoulder and handed me a manila folder with my class schedule, a school map, and other notices she had collected for me earlier in the week. “Are you ready?” she asked.

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