When the last bell sounded, I grabbed my books and literally made a run for it, eager to avoid the teeming halls. I’d been jostled, interrogated, and scrutinized enough for one day. Despite my efforts I hadn’t managed to find a single quiet moment; during my breaks Molly had dragged me off to meet her friends, who all shot questions at me like rounds of machine-gun fire. Despite that, I’d made it to the end of the first day without serious mishap, and I was pleased with my achievement.

I loitered under the palms outside the school gates, waiting for Gabriel. I leaned back and rested my head against the tree’s cool, jagged trunk. I was awed by the earth’s varied vegetation. Palms, for one, struck me as such strange-looking creations. They reminded me of sentries with their lean, straight trunks and their exploding branches that looked just like the plumed helmets of palace guards. As I stood there, I watched the students tossing their bags into cars, peeling off their blazers, and looking visibly more relaxed. Some were heading off in the direction of the town to gather at local cafes or favorite haunts.

I didn’t feel relaxed; I was suffering from information overload. My head buzzed as I tried to make sense of everything that had happened in the space of a few hours. Even the limitless energy we had been created with couldn’t prevent the creeping feeling of exhaustion that was coming over me. I wanted nothing more than the comfort of home.

I spotted Gabriel making his way down the main steps, closely followed by a small gaggle of admirers, mostly girls. My brother might have been a celebrity for the attention he attracted. The girls lingered several yards behind him, trying hard not to appear conspicuous. Judging by his appearance, Gabe had managed to maintain his composure and poise throughout the day, but I could see from the hard set of his jaw and the slightly ruffled look of his hair that he was ready to go home. The girls stopped speaking mid-sentence when he glanced in their direction. I knew my brother and guessed that despite his apparent composure, he would never welcome such attention. He seemed embarrassed rather than flattered by it.

Gabriel was nearly at the gates when a shapely brunette stumbled in front of him in a poorly executed attempt at an accidental fall. In one smooth movement Gabe caught her in his arms just before she hit the ground. There were audible gasps of admiration from the watching students, and I saw some of the other girls bristle with jealousy at not having come up with the idea themselves. But there was little to warrant their envy: Gabriel merely steadied the girl, replaced the items that had fallen from her bag, wordlessly picked up his battered briefcase, and kept walking. He wasn’t being unfriendly; he simply wouldn’t have seen the need for any exchange of words. The girl stared wistfully after him and her friends crowded around, hoping some of the glamour of the moment might rub off on them.

“You poor thing, you have a fan club already,” I said, patting his arm sympathetically as we began our walk home.

“I’m not the only one,” Gabriel replied. “You didn’t exactly escape attention either.”

“Yes, but no one’s really tried to talk to me.” I didn’t mention my encounter with Xavier Woods — something told me Gabriel wouldn’t approve.

“Be grateful for small mercies,” said Gabriel drily.

I related the day, point by point, to Ivy when we got home. Gabriel, who hadn’t been thrilled by every little detail, remained silent. Ivy smothered a smile when I told the story of the swooning girls.

“Teenage girls can be quite lacking in subtlety,” Ivy mused. “The boys, on the hand, are much harder to read. It’s all very interesting, don’t you think?”

“They all just seem lost to me,” Gabe said. “I wonder if any of them really know what life is all about. I didn’t realize we’d be starting from scratch. This is going to be harder than I thought.” He fell silent, and we all were reminded of the epic task we had ahead of us.

“We always knew it was going to be hard,” Ivy said softly.

“You know something I noticed,” I said. “It seems like a lot has gone on in this town over the last few months. I heard some of the most awful stories.”

“Like what?” Ivy asked.

“Two students have died from freak accidents recently,” I said. “And there have been outbreaks of sickness and fires and all sorts of strange things. People are starting to notice that something’s wrong.”

“Looks like we got here just in time,” said Ivy.

“But how will we find whoever… or whatever is responsible?” I asked.

“There is no way to find them yet,” said Gabriel. “It’s our job to clean up the mess and wait until they show up again. Trust me; they won’t go down without a fight.”

We all fell silent as we thought about confronting such random destruction.

“So… I made a friend today!” I announced, in an attempt to lighten the gloom that was settling over us. It came out sounding as if it was a major achievement, and they both looked at me with their now-familiar mix of concern and disapproval.

“Is there something wrong with that?” I said defensively. “Aren’t I allowed to have friends? I thought the whole idea was to blend in.”

“Blending in is one thing; but do you realize that friends require time and energy?” said Gabriel. “They’ll want to bond.” He winced as if the thought was painful to him.

“As in physically meld together?” I was confused.

“I mean, they’ll want to be emotionally close,” my brother explained. “Human relationships can be unnaturally intimate — I’ll never understand it.”

“They can also be a distraction,” Ivy somehow felt the need to add. “Not to mention the fact that friendship comes with expectations, so choose carefully.”

“What kind of expectations?”

“Human friendships are based on trust. Friends share problems, exchange confidences and…” She petered out with a shake of her golden head and looked imploringly at Gabriel.

“What Ivy means is that anyone who becomes your friend will start to ask questions and expect answers,” said Gabe. “They will want to become part of your life and that’s dangerous.”

“Well, thanks for the vote of confidence,” I replied indignantly. “You know I’d never do anything that might jeopardize the mission. How stupid do you think I am?”

I was pleased to see them exchange guilty looks. I might have been younger and less experienced than they were, but it was no reason to treat me like an idiot.

“We don’t think that,” said Gabriel in a more conciliatory tone. “Of course we trust you; it’s just that we want to avoid things getting complicated.”

“They won’t,” I said. “But I still want to experience life as a teenager.”

“We just have to be careful.” Gabriel reached out to give my hand a squeeze. “We’ve been entrusted with a task that is much more important than our individual desires.”

Put like that he had a point. Why was he so irritatingly wise? And why was it so impossible to stay mad at him?

I felt much more relaxed at home. In a short time we’d already made the place our own. We were manifesting a typically human trait — to personalize and identify with a space — and home felt like a sanctuary after the day we’d had. Even Gabriel, although he would have been loath to admit it, was starting to enjoy living here. We were rarely bothered by the doorbell ringing (the house’s imposing facade seemed to deter visitors), so once inside we were free to pursue our own interests.

Although I’d been eager to get home, I now found myself at a loss as to how I should be occupying my time. It was all right for Gabriel and Ivy. They were always absorbed in a book, playing the baby grand, or up to their elbows in flour in the kitchen. Without a hobby of my own, I was left to wander aimlessly around the house. I decided to focus on domestic chores for a while. I brought in a load of laundry and folded it before putting the kettle on. The house smelled a little musty from being shut up all day, so I opened some windows and cleared the clutter

Вы читаете Halo
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату