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Marilyn pulled into her driveway and parked the van. “Alright, everyone out!”
Their destination, the park centered in a roundabout street, was just around the corner. It was the core of their neighborhood–and, historically speaking, it was where every coronation took place since the foundation of the colony. With most of the colony attending, the road between them and the park would be packed with people.
The students piled out of the vehicle and continued on foot, their eyes peeled for more of their friends.
“Koji, isn’t Kent supposed to meet us here?” asked Kaine. “I don’t see him.”
“I’ll try calling him,” he offered, his phone raised to his ear.
“Don’t bother,” Tawni sighed. “He texted me this morning and said he wasn’t coming. I thought he had told the rest of you?”
After the rest of their group shook their heads, Marilyn grumbled, “Great, typical Kent. Ghosts at the last minute.”
“Life is going to be way more fun now that I know where those random disgruntled comments stem from,” Kaine intoned teasingly.
The twenty-year-old opened her mouth to retort when a voice called out from the crowd ahead. “Mair!”
She gave Walter a bitter smile. “Hey, Walt.”
The man snaked through the crowd, meeting them on the dirt trail that acted as a sidewalk. He pulled Marilyn close and kissed her brusquely, his right hand under her chin to keep her in place. He whispered something to her that the rest of them could not hear before finally greeting the group. “Hey, kids!”
“Hey, Walter,” Gavin said cheerlessly. His hazel eyes were on Walter’s hand; noticing what held the teen’s attention, the man relinquished his hold on his partner.
No one else greeted Walter. No one else had the stomach to speak to such a vile man. No other teenager in their group could make an adult falter with a glare that burned with hostility.
Lizzie took Gabriella’s hand in hers as she monitored Walter’s aura. Dark, desaturated pink tendrils stretched off of him, swimming in a sea of green that was so obscure it appeared almost black. A dim layer of orangey-brown sat deeper still; it was a color whose meaning she had yet to uncover, and that worried her nearly as much as the rest of his energy.
“We should find a good spot to watch,” Walter growled grumpily. He took Marilyn by the hand and eased through the crowd, tugging her back the way they had come.
“ ‘Spot to watch’ my ass,” scowled Kaine. “He’s got some fuckin’ nerve, acting chummy with us.”
“When’s Mair going to see what a tool that guy is?” Tawni wondered aloud as she leaned against that corner’s stop sign. Most of the crowd on the street that surrounded the small park was seated in camping chairs, so they had a good view of the ceremony. Lizzie recognized the people setting up audio equipment in the park as Connor Montgomery, Samuel Palladino, and his brother Ricardo.
“She already sees it,” Benji answered their sister’s rhetorical question. “There aren’t exactly a lot of potential mates for her to choose from here. With the way things went with her parents, she probably thinks that she doesn’t deserve better.”
“She’d rather stick it out in a dead-end relationship than have her heart broken by someone she loves,” Kaine hinted.
Koji let out a groan. “Okay, we get it! Fuck my brother for wanting to be happy, right?”
“I think Sorcha’s wonderful for Kent!” Gabriella assured him quickly. When no one else joined her, she meekly asked, “Am I all alone here?”
“No, I like her, too,” Lizzie encouraged her. “I like the idea of him and Mair together, but I think they would just fight all the time. Sorcha’s confidence builds Kent up, and I think Mair unintentionally breaks down other people so she can feel better.”
“And since that’s something that breeds drama between her and Walter, it’s the closest she gets to feeling like she’s with someone who’s on her wavelength,” Kaine speculated with a sigh. “Let’s talk about something else, guys.”
“Like what?” Tawni muttered. “How Kent’s changed since graduation? How he most likely never even planned on meeting us and flaked again?”
“Seriously, Tawni? He’s been working as a scout on the border. He’s been defending us from bandits every damn day since last summer,” Koji objected, quick to defend his older brother. “What the fuck do you think is gonna happen when you finish school this year? You think you’re gonna play with your fuckin’ toys all day?”
“Leave her alone, man–” Gavin began.
“This isn’t what I meant by ‘something else,’ “ Kaine said under his breath.
“C’mon, Koji, you know Tawni didn’t mean it like that,” Benji reasoned. “We all appreciate Kent and everything he does for us and the colony.”
“Yeah, sure,” he scoffed. “I can tell by all the shit you guys talk when he isn’t here.”
Then the freshman turned around and trudged off in the direction Walter had dragged Marilyn.
“Koji! Hey–” Gavin started after him. “C’mon, don’t go.”
When the underclassman refused to acknowledge him, the older teen grabbed him by the arm and held him in place. “Koji! Don’t–”
“Or what?” Koji challenged, turning to face his brother’s best friend. “You going to keep me here against my will? Way to be like your old man.”
Tawni gasped. Lizzie and Kaine’s jaws dropped. Oh no.
Gavin was frozen in place, immobilized by Koji’s words. His hazel eyes were wide, overflowing with emotions. Fear, hate, sorrow–
His normally bright orange glow gave way to a thick stripe of blood red. The shift was so sudden that Lizzie’s hand flew to her mouth in shock. Oh no!
Benji was the first to take a step toward Gavin and Koji–but it was Gabriella who surged ahead and separated the two. She took her brother’s still outstretched hand in hers and lowered it to her side. Her own hazel pools were downcast as they fixed onto Koji.
He fidgeted a bit under her gaze, seemingly regretful of his words. “Gabby, I–”
“If you’re going to leave,” she said coldly. “Then leave.”
Gabriella turned back to the group, pulling Gavin with her and leaving behind a stunned Koji. He recovered quickly, scoffing at her gesture as he left.
It was as the Moore siblings had rejoined them that the ceremony commenced.
“Uh, hello?” Feedback reverberated through the open area as a familiar face spoke into a microphone. “Can you all hear me?”
Cheers and whoops rang out from the crowd, welcoming the angel. His thick, dark hair was tapered short along the sides with a few extra inches on top. The excess portion was wavy, swept back and leaning to one side as if it naturally parted that way. His bright green eyes took in the assembly with glee, and an even layer of stubble lined his square jaw. He grinned wide and said, “I’ll take that as a yes.”
“Ohmigosh, ohmigosh, ohmigosh!” Tawni gushed, clinging to Lizzie’s arm. “It’s Frankie! Frankie!”
“I don’t blame you for hating Carmen’s guts, Tawni,” Kaine sighed. “He’s freakin’ gorgeous…”
“Yeah, but Mair’s got a point,” she pouted. “I can’t hate her for being lucky.”
Memories of the night before flooded Lizzie’s mind. “Maybe it isn’t luck.”
“What do you mean?” Gabby asked, sandwiched between her and Benji.
“I mean, maybe there’s more than luck involved when it comes to spirit relationships,” Lizzie said in a hushed tone, forcing the others to inch closer. “Spirits have something similar to marriage called a ‘soul mate bond’ –those same spirits will fall in love again and again in every lifetime.”
“That’s right, I forgot about the whole ‘reincarnation’ thing!” Tawni gasped. “That’s so romantic! I wish humans reincarnated.”
“Mona thinks that we actually do,” she went on. Frankie was giving a speech to the colony about how honored he was to have been their prince for five years. “But it takes us much longer to be reborn. I think Frankie and Carmen are actually soul mates–or whatever the human-angel equivalent of a soul mate is.”
“You really believe that?” Gavin whispered from her left. She hadn’t realized he was standing so close to her.
“Yes,” she breathed softly. “Mona also said that Desideria Alagona gave Frankie her blessing to move forward with the relationship.”
Kaine and Tawni swapped appalled looks. “The old prophet? Seriously?” Tawni groaned. “I heard that she only ever does that when the two are soul mates. Frankie really is meant to be with Carmen…”
Speaking so low that only Lizzie could hear him, Gavin said, “I meant, ‘do you really believe in soul mates?’ ”
Taken aback, Lizzie turned her head to inquire about the younger teen’s question–only to be caught in his eyes. Warmth flashed across her face. “I…”
“And now,” Frankie’s voice rose over the crowd, drawing her attention back to the park. “For the angel who will act as our new leader–”
She recognized more of the angels who had congregated on the grass: Cienna and Natalie Hall, Cassidy and Alexandria Montgomery–
Her russet eyes nearly bulged out of her head when she saw who all stood behind Alexa. “I-I didn’t know the council would be here.”
“Duh!” Kaine confirmed. “They have to show their support for the new guy.”
“–Montague Alagona the second!”
The once-seated attendees had all jumped to their feet, clamoring to see the new prince. Gavin and Benji craned their necks in order to watch, while Gabby and Tawni hopped up and down, desperate to see.
Kaine, the only member of their party tall enough to see over the crowd, snickered at their discomfort. “Should we have brought step-stools?”
“Fuck you,” Gavin, Tawni, and Lizzie said in unison.
It was then that an all-too-familiar crack was heard overhead; lightning zigzagged down from the heavens at an alarming speed, striking the ground at the center of the park. Two figures were left in the wake of the electricity–through the gaps between heads and shoulders, Lizzie could just barely make out Christopher Montgomery’s unkempt blond hair. The man at his side was certainly taller, but with so many between them…
A rumbling sounded from the park, and suddenly Monty was raised within view of everyone.
“Whoa! How’d they do that?” Gavin had aimed his question at Kaine, but it was Benji who had answered.
“Rumor has it the court recruited a new angel a couple of months back,” they mentioned. “I heard he has the power to move earth.”
Tawni let out a snort. “Seriously? The new guy’s an Earth bender?”
“None of our friends have watched that show yet, so your reference means nothing,” Benji deadpanned.
While the subject matter of their conversation normally would have aroused curiosity from the former bandit, Lizzie was transfixed on Monty, watching as he smiled and waved at the colonists. The microphone Frankie had used was gripped in his left hand, and he raised the device to his face as he spoke.
“Thank you all so much for coming out today!” he began. “It means a lot that you’re here to show your support for us, the angels of the Iuppiter Court.”
“I hate that they mispronounce it,” griped Tawni.
“They don’t,” Benji said in a matter-of-factly tone. “They call their home planet by its Latin name.”
“For the last century, our court has sought refuge here in your colony. You gave us a home and added to our sense of purpose. In return, we expanded your borders; we protected your families; we helped you figure out which traditions to maintain and which were not conducive to a happy and fulfilling life.”
I didn’t realize how much I missed the sound of his voice, she swooned internally.
From that angle, the westward sun made his green eyes look dazzling. His wavy wisps of coal-black hair flew around in the wintry wind. His smile and self-confidence lifted her spirit.
Without warning, the prince’s suave demeanor became burdened. “But the sad truth is, we’re not the only inhabitants of this planet–we’re not the only spirits who walk the earth, and you are not the only humans alive today. There was a time when we used to open our doors and welcome all those who want the lifestyle that we enjoy, but we haven’t done that for many years. There are families without the security of our walls. There are sole survivors of scavenger raids roaming the world who watched as those they loved were killed.”
He met her gaze, his eyes apologetic. “There are children being born into bandit families who are tortured on a regular basis by the very parents that are meant to love them.”
Her vision blurred slightly as her eyes welled up with tears.
“We have the power to change all of that,” Monty declared. “Humans and angels together possess the strength to help all of those in need. We can turn the tide against the bandit gangs. We can establish communication and trade with other colonies. We can open our doors!”
Boisterous cheers erupted throughout the assembly. While a few colonists here and there looked skeptical, Lizzie could tell that the majority of them were open to their new prince’s plan. If he can really make this happen, I might be able to see my brothers and sisters again. I might be able to give them a better life.
She wrung her hands together, held the mish-mash of fingers against her chest, and locked eyes with the angel once more.
“Thank you,” she mouthed silently.
His smile was genuine, and he gave her a single nod as his earthen platform began to recede into the ground.
I didn’t realize how much I missed you.