my pajamas, listening to him talk about his recipe ideas. His voice was so soothing, like a cool balm easing my anxious mind. I knew he would stay with me and talk to me until I fell asleep. Every word he spoke tugged me gently back to life.

But even Xavier’s presence couldn’t protect me from the nightmares. Every night it was the same, and I would wake drenched in a cold sweat. I’d know immediately that I’d been dreaming. I’d know even as it was playing out in my head. I’d been having the same dream for weeks now, but it still managed to terrify me and I woke with my heart in my throat and my hands curled into fists.

In the dream I was in Heaven again, having left earth behind me for good. The deep sadness I felt was so real that when I woke it felt as if I had a bullet in my chest. Heaven’s splendor left me cold, and I begged Our Father for more time on earth. I pleaded my case vehemently and wept bitter tears, but my pleas fell on deaf ears. In despair I saw the gates close behind me, and I knew there was no escape. My chance had come and I let it pass.

Although I was home I felt like a stranger. It wasn’t the return itself that caused me so much pain; it was the thought of what I’d left behind. The thought of never touching Xavier, of never seeing his face again, tore at me like talons. In the dream I’d lost him. His features were blurred when I tried to evoke them from memory. What stung the most was that I didn’t even get the chance to say good-bye.

The vastness of eternity lay before me, and all I wanted was mortality. But there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t alter the immutable laws of life and death, Heaven and earth. I couldn’t even hope, for there was nothing to hope for. My brothers and sisters rallied around to offer words of comfort, but I was inconsolable. Without him, nothing in my world made sense.

Despite the distress the dream caused me, I didn’t care how often I was visited by it, so long as I could wake and know that soon he would come. The waking was all that mattered. Waking to feel the warmth of the sun streaming through the French doors, my faithful Phantom sleeping at my feet, and the gulls circling above a cerulean sea. The future could wait. We had endured a great trial together, he and I, and survived it. We had emerged scarred but stronger. I couldn’t believe the Heaven I knew could be so cruel as to part us. I didn’t know what the future held, but I knew that we would face it together.

I’d been an insomniac for weeks now. I sat up in bed and watched the slivers of moonlight drifting across the floor. I’d given up on sleep — every time I closed my eyes, I thought I could feel a hand brushing across my face or sense a dark shape slipping through my doorway. One night I even looked out my window and thought I could see Jake Thorn’s face in the clouds.

I climbed out of bed and opened the balcony doors. A chilly wind swept through the room, and I saw that black clouds were hanging low in the sky. A storm was coming. It made me wish Xavier was there — I imagined him wrapping his arms around my shoulders and pressing his warm body against mine. I’d feel his lips against my ear, and he’d tell me that everything would be okay and that I’d always be safe. But Xavier wasn’t there, and it was just me, standing alone and feeling the first droplets of rain splatter onto my face. I knew I’d see Xavier in the morning when he came to drive me to school — but morning seemed so far away, and the idea of sitting and waiting in the dark made me feel sick. I leaned against the iron railing of the balcony and sucked in the crisp air. I was wearing nothing but my flimsy cotton nightie, and it billowed around me as the wind tried to knock me off my feet. I could see the sea in the distance; it reminded me of a black sleeping animal. The rippling waves rose and fell almost as if it were breathing. As the howling wind rushed at me, a strange thought entered my head. It was almost as if the wind were trying to lift me up, to make me airborne. I checked the clock radio on my bedside table; it was after midnight, so the whole neighborhood would be asleep. It seemed for a moment as though the whole world belonged to me, and before I knew what was happening, I had lifted myself up and was balancing on the edge of the railing. I stretched my arms above my head. The air was refreshingly cool. I caught a raindrop on my tongue and laughed aloud at how relaxed I suddenly felt. A flash of lightning lit up the horizon where the sky and sea seemed to meet. An inexplicable sense of adventure took hold of me, and I jumped.

For a moment I wondered if I was falling before realizing that something was holding me up. My wings had sliced through the fine material of my nightgown and were gently beating the air. I let them lift me higher and swung my legs like an excited child. Within moments the rooftops were below me, and I was dipping and swooping through the night sky. By now peals of thunder were making the earth tremble, and cracks of lightning illuminated the darkness, but I wasn’t afraid. I knew exactly where I wanted to go. I knew the route to Xavier’s house by heart. It was surreal flying above the sleeping town — I passed over Bryce Hamilton and over the familiar streets around it. It felt as though I was soaring above a ghost town. But the knowledge at the back of my mind that I could be seen at any time was exhilarating. I didn’t even bother trying to hide behind the rain-laden clouds.

Soon I was standing on the soft lawn of Xavier’s house. I crept around to the back of the house where Xavier’s bedroom was. His window was open to let in the night breeze, and his bedside lamp was still on. Xavier was lying with his chemistry book open across his chest. Somehow sleep made him look much younger. He was still wearing his faded sweatpants and a loose white T-shirt. One arm rested behind his head, and the other had fallen by his side. His lips were slightly parted, and I watched the gentle rise and fall of his chest. His face was peaceful, as though he didn’t have a single care in the world.

I retracted my wings and silently climbed inside. I tiptoed closer to the bed and reached out to lift the book from his chest. Xavier stirred but didn’t wake up. I stood at the end of his bed, watching as he slept, and suddenly felt closer to Our Creator than I ever had in the Kingdom. There in front of me was his greatest creation of all. Angels may have been created as watch guards, but I felt like I could sense in Xavier a great power — a power to change the world. He could do whatever he wanted, be whoever he wanted. Suddenly I realized what I wanted most in the all the world — it was for him to be happy — with or without me. So I got down on my knees, bowed my head, and prayed to God — asking Him to bless Xavier and keep him safe from harm. I prayed for his life to be long and prosperous. I prayed for all his dreams to come true. I prayed that I would always be able to connect with him in some small way — even if I was no longer on earth.

Before leaving, I took a final look around his room. I took in the L.A. Lakers flag pinned to the wall, read the inscriptions on the trophies that lined the shelves. I ran my fingers over the objects scattered on his desk. A carved wooden box drew my attention. It looked out of place amid the boyish belongings. I pulled it forward and slowly opened the lid. Inside, the box was lined with red satin. In the center lay a single white feather. I recognized it immediately as the one Xavier had found in his car after our first date. I knew he would keep it forever.


Three months later things had settled down and were more or less back to normal. Ivy, Gabriel, and I had worked to heal the town and the students at Bryce Hamilton so that the terrible afflictions they had experienced or witnessed were reduced to nothing more than hazy, fragmented images or words that were unable to be linked together in any kind of logical sequence. Xavier was the only one granted full access to the memories. He didn’t bring them up, but I knew he hadn’t forgotten — would never forget. But Xavier was strong; he had dealt with enormous pain and grief in his young lifetime, and we knew he wouldn’t buckle under the extra burden.

As the weeks passed, we managed to fall back into our familiar routine, and I’d even made progress with getting back into Bernie’s good graces.

“On a scale of one to ten, how close am I to being totally forgiven?” I asked Xavier as we walked to school in the morning sunshine.

“Ten,” Xavier said. “I know my mom’s tough, but how long do you expect her to hold a grudge? It’s all in the past now.”

“I hope so.”

Xavier reached across and took my hand. “There’s nothing to be afraid of anymore.”

“Except for the occasional demon,” I teased. “But don’t let that put a damper on things.”

“No way,” Xavier said. “They were crashing our party.”

“Do you ever worry that they might show up again and everything will fall apart?”

“No, because I think between the two of us, we’ll always manage to put things back together.”

“You always know just what to say.” I smiled. “Do you rehearse those lines at home?”

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