This was not how I expected to spend my first coronation.
Mona, Tawni, Alexa, Natalie and Cienna were all huddled up on one side of the fire pit, catching up on colonial gossip and Desideria’s latest predictions. Frankie was seated on the opposite side with his arm around a bundled Carmen; the couple whispered to one another with expressions that switched between elation and satisfaction every other sentence, their hushed conversation interrupted by the occasional chuckle. Chris and Ricky had claimed spots between Monty and Frankie, with the former three discussing patrol patterns and potential strategies for raiding bandit encampments. Lizzie was at the prince’s side with Gavin and Kaine close by to complete their group’s circle, but the sophomores were more engrossed in one of the mobile games Tawni had set up on their phones than on the conversation between the three angels. Lizzie sat on the blanket and hugged her knees to her chest, her eyes watching the scene before her.
The ocean had taken on an indigo shade; dark waves were accompanied by sapphire seafoam as they crashed onto the plum-tinted shoreline. Lizzie glanced over her shoulder to face the direction of the colony, fascinated by the streaks of coral and peach that stretched out from the setting sun; the bright orange and pink shifted to deep rosewood and mauve as she returned her gaze to the water and its darkening horizon.
Benji, Gabriella, and Cassidy were playing a game of manhunt on the beach with Cooper Montgomery and Gordon Hall, Connor and Cassidy’s little sister–who turned out to be the same age as the freshmen–and Cienna and Natalie’s younger brother, respectively. Gordon and Cassidy were also soul mates, a fact that reminded the human of something she had never considered: her growing group of friends was filled with romantic couples.
It sounds nice to have someone like that.
“Do you really believe in soul mates?” Gavin’s question from earlier that evening echoed in her mind.
I said yes, but now I’m not so sure. She mulled over the subject, her eyes passing over the couples around her. Alexa and Chris have been together forever, so I guess they felt their bond at a young age. Their age difference is similar to Cassie and Gordon’s, and they recently discovered their bond, too. Is it a teenager thing? Do angels start recognizing their mate after they’ve hit puberty?
She recalled the twins’ conversation the night before, when Monty and Mona discussed Frankie’s bond with Carmen. Apparently he first felt his bond with her when they were teenagers, but he didn’t even speak to her until after they were both eighteen.
“Eh, I don’t know about you not being a kid when I found you… But you’re right. By human standards, you’ve been an adult since last July.”
” ‘Human standards’? What, do you guys live forever or something?”
“Or something. Every planet has different customs, but the one constant in our solar system is that a spirit isn’t considered an adult until their twenty-fifth birthday. Earth’s the exception, if only because it was abandoned by spirits forever ago.”
Lizzie frowned. Monty acknowledged that I’m of age in my culture, but made it a point to tell me that I’m still underage in his. Why? He’s only twenty-three–he’s in the same age range as I am. An adult to humans, and a minor to angels…
“Damn, ‘cuz,” Frankie’s words cut through her train of thought. “You’ve only officially been prince for ten minutes and you’ve already been rejected.”
Heat rushed to her cheeks, and her embrace of her lower extremities tightened. It’s true, isn’t it? Monty has feelings for me–he has for a while now.
She found her gaze wandering over to the prince. He looked uncharacteristically serious as he discussed his plans to liberate bandit children, his eyes dark and determined. His face was more defined than she remembered, and the distance between his shoulders could easily fit two of her. His aura was shifting, floating around him as if it had a mind of its own. It was a vibrant chartreuse that spread out to emerald at one end and dandelion yellow at the other; marigold was creeping up on the yellow shade, while the green was beginning to give way to cerulean. It was the most diverse palette Lizzie had ever seen in an aura, and it made her chuckle softly.
Even his colors are special… Her fingers dug into her legs. How could someone so special ever feel anything good for me?
“You, Elizabeth Peters, are a very special girl. Don’t let the past cloud your future with fear–set your doubts ablaze, watch them burn away, and dance on their ashes.”
Don’t let my past determine the future.
“This all sounds fine,” Ricky contended. “But you can’t expect us to wander aimlessly through no man’s land or any bandit territory. We need to figure out where they’re holed up–bases, camps, common ambush sites.”
“I can have Leah and Daya scout ahead,” proposed Monty. “I don’t want to risk any squads. Hell, I’ll create more like them if I have to–”
Monty’s words caught in his throat as he glanced over to Lizzie; she was leaning against his side, her eyes averted. When she threw him a questioning look, she could have sworn his eyes were wide, though she considered that she was seeing things in the dying light of day.
“You okay?” he asked. He sounded genuinely concerned as his eyes passed over her. “Are you cold? Hungry?”
She shook her head, nudging his upper arm with her cheek. “No, I’m fine. Can I see your sketchbook?”
He smirked. “Are you just cozying up to me to get to Hugh?”
“Maybe,” she alluded, the ends of her lips curled up in a teasing smile.
“Yeah, thought so.” The angel pulled a little black journal from the pocket of his denim joggers and held it out for the human. She took it, murmuring a, “thanks,” as she felt the familiar feel of the soft leather-like cover. A web of minute cracks littered the surface, and one of the rounded corners was completely torn off.
He’s had this thing for so long–hasn’t he filled its pages already?
Lizzie opened the journal, memories resurfacing of her first night in the colony. A smile crept onto her lips as she recalled the shock she felt when she watched Monty bring one of his drawings to life. He had let her flip through his sketchbook then as well, and the two had made an animal together.
Bear, eagle, fox, panther… Giddiness filled her as she found the page dedicated to their creation. It was a drawing of a small bird, but it was like no bird Lizzie had ever seen prior to her arrival. His back, chest, and head were a soft lilac; the light purple phased out to a deep orchid along his wings, matching his eyes. His beak was a charcoal black, and she could almost hear his cheerful chirps as she looked him over.
Her eyes flew all around the page, reading the writing. His name was the largest label, underlined and hanging over the bird’s head. The initials M.A.I.I. were signed at the bottom-right corner, with a rough-looking E.P. scrawled at the bottom-left. Monty had added notes beneath Hugh; his species, dimensions, and in what ways he was useful.
- Small, can hide in bushes + low shrubbery.
- If close enough, can make detailed observations.
- Alarm calls great for defense.
- Song/vocalizations provide cover for scouts.
- He makes Lizzie smile.
Her jaw dropped. By the fading of the ink, she knew the angel had to have written those notes shortly after they made Hugh. She flipped back to the older drawings, and then ahead to the newer ones. None of their notes included personal uses.
“What?” Monty asked. His question was accompanied by a nervous chuckle. “Did you miss him that much? Want me to bring him out?”
Lizzie met his gaze, her eyes searching his while studying his aura in her peripheral. All she saw was pink–it took over, dominating his energy and clouding her vision. You’ve liked me all this time… But do you like me as much as I like you?
“Lizzie–?” he began, only for her to ask:
“Will you go out with me?”