school — Mars?”

I blushed as soon as I understood the meaning of her original question. “I haven’t really met any boys yet,” I said, shrugging. “I did run into someone called Xavier.” Speaking his name aloud was strange. There was a cadence to it that made it sound special. I was glad the boy with the intense eyes and the floppy hair wasn’t a Peter or Rob. I’d hoped to sound casual bringing him up, but his name exploded into the conversation like a firework.

“Which Xavier?” Molly quizzed, all ears now. “Is he blond? Xavier Laro’s blond and plays on the lacrosse team. He’s pretty hot. I wouldn’t blame you for liking him, but I think he might already have a girlfriend. Or did they break up? I’m not sure; I could try and find out.”

“This one had light brown hair,” I interrupted her, “and blue eyes.”

“Oh.” Molly’s expression changed. “That would be Xavier Woods. He’s the school captain.”

“Well, he seemed nice.”

“I wouldn’t go for him if I were you,” she counseled. Her expression was all concern, but I got the feeling she expected me to take her advice no matter what. Maybe that was one of the rules in the world of teenage girls: “Friends are always right.”

“I’m not really going for anyone, Molly,” I said, but was unable to resist asking, “Why, what’s wrong with him?” It didn’t seem possible that the boy I’d met could be anything other than perfect.

“Oh, he’s nice enough,” Molly replied, “but let’s just say he’s got baggage.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, a whole heap of girls have been trying to get his attention for ages, but he’s emotionally unavailable.”

“You mean he’s already got a girlfriend?”

“He did have. Her name was Emily. But no one’s been able to comfort him since…” She trailed off.

“They broke up?” I prompted.

“No.” Molly’s voice dropped and she twisted her fingers uncomfortably. “She died in a house fire almost two years ago. Before it happened they were inseparable, people even talked about them getting married and everything. No one’s been able to measure up to her. I don’t think he’s ever really gotten over it.”

“How awful,” I said. “He would have been only…”

“Sixteen,” Molly finished. “He was pretty close with Henry Taylor as well — he spoke at the funeral. He was just getting over Emily when it happened. Everyone kinda expected him to break down, but he just shut off emotionally and kept going.”

I didn’t know what else to say. Looking at Xavier’s face, you would never have guessed the pain he must have endured, although now I remembered there was a slightly guarded look about his eyes.

“He’s all right now,” Molly said. “He’s still friends with everyone, still plays on the rugby team, and coaches the junior swimmers. It’s not like he can’t crack a smile, it’s just that relationships are sort of off-limits. I don’t think he wants to get involved again after the crappy luck he’s had.”

“I guess you can’t blame him,” I said.

Molly suddenly noticed that I was still in my uniform and her serious tone lifted. “Hurry up and get changed,” she urged. “What are you, shy?”

“Just a bit.” I smiled at her and disappeared into a shower cubicle.

My thoughts about Xavier Woods were cut off as soon as I saw the sports uniform I was expected to wear. I even contemplated crawling out the window to make my escape. It was completely unflattering; the shorts were too short, and the top rode up so much that I could hardly move without flashing my midriff. That was going to be a problem during games seeing as we angels didn’t have a navel — just smooth white skin, freckle and indentation free. Luckily my wings (feathered but paper thin) folded flat across my back, so I didn’t have to worry about them showing, but they were starting to cramp from lack of exercise. I couldn’t wait until the predawn flight in the mountains that Gabriel had promised us soon.

I tugged the top down as far as I could and joined Molly, who was at the mirror applying a liberal coating of lip gloss. I wasn’t sure why she needed lip gloss for gym class, but when she offered me the brush, I accepted, not wanting to appear ungracious. I wasn’t exactly sure how to use the applicator but managed to apply a fairly uneven coating. I assumed it was something that took practice. Unlike the other girls, I hadn’t been experimenting with my mom’s cosmetics since I was five. I hadn’t even known what my human face looked like until recently.

“Rub your lips together,” said Molly. “Like this…”

I mimicked her and found that the motion smoothed out the gloss, making me look less clownlike.

“That’s better,” she said approvingly.


“I guess you don’t wear makeup very often.”

I shook my head.

“Well, it’s not like you need it. That color suits you though.”

“It smells amazing.”

“It’s called Melon Sorbet.” Molly looked pleased with herself, then became distracted by something and began sniffing the air.

“Can you smell that?” she asked.

I stiffened, gripped by a sudden rush of insecurity. Was it me? Was it possible that we smelled terrible to people on earth? Had Ivy sprayed my clothes with some sort of perfume that was socially unacceptable in Molly’s world?

“It smells like… like rain or something,” she said. I relaxed instantly. What she could smell was just the characteristic scent that all angels carried, and rain was a pretty good description on her part.

“Don’t be a ditz, Molly,” one of her friends said. Taylah, I thought her name was, recalling earlier rushed introductions. “It’s not raining in here, duh.”

Molly shrugged and tugged on my sleeve, leading me out of the locker room and into the gym where a blonde fifty-something woman with a sun-ravaged face and Lycra shorts was bouncing on the balls of her feet and shouting at us to drop and give her twenty.

“Don’t you just hate gym teachers?” Molly said, rolling her eyes. “They’re so… up all the time.”

I didn’t reply, but given the steely-faced look of the woman and my lack of athletic enthusiasm, we probably weren’t going to get along very well.

Half an hour later we had run ten laps of the court, done fifty each of push-ups, sit-ups, squats, and lunges, and that was only the warm-up. I felt sorry for the other students who were staggering around with chests heaving and shirts damp with sweat. Angels didn’t get tired; our energy was limitless and so didn’t need to be conserved. We didn’t perspire, either; we could run a marathon and not produce a single drop of sweat. Molly became suddenly aware of this.

“You’re not even puffing!” she said accusingly. “Jeez, you must be really fit.”

“Or use a really good deodorant,” added Taylah, tipping the contents of her water bottle down her cleavage. It attracted the attention of a gaggle of boys nearby, who gaped at her. “It’s getting hot in here!” she teased, parading past the boys with her now see-through shirt until the gym teacher noticed the spectacle and charged over to us like a raging bull.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully, except that I found myself scouring the corridors, hoping to catch another glimpse of the school captain, the boy called Xavier Woods. Given what I had learned about him from Molly, I was feeling flattered that he had paid me any attention at all.

I thought back to our meeting on the pier and remembered marveling at his eyes — such a brilliant, startling blue. They were the kind of eyes you couldn’t look into for too long without going weak at the knees. I wondered now what might have happened had I accepted his invitation and sat down beside him. Would we have talked while I tried my hand at fishing? What would we have said?

I shook myself mentally. This wasn’t why I had been sent to earth. I made myself promise that in the days that followed I wouldn’t think about Xavier Woods at all. If I chanced to see him, I would ignore him. If he tried to speak to me, I would give token answers and move away. In short, I wouldn’t allow him to have any effect on me.

Needless to say, I was to fail spectacularly.

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