June 30, 1976
The diner smelled of percolating coffee, slightly burnt, and served only black. The linoleum was cracked, and the counter tops were a perpetual sticky no amount of scrubbing could clean. The waitresses wore lumpy, blue uniforms and thick, white-soled shoes. Summer sunlight streamed through the slightly murky windows, warming the restaurant beyond the scant cooling capabilities of the sputtering air conditioner. The tiny bell above the door jingled cheerfully.
I looked up, ignoring Evelyn, the older waitress who was trying to teach me how to wrap the forks and spoons into a tight napkin cocoon. I smiled, because I already knew who was walking through the door and exactly what he would look like even though I had never met him.
I tended to know a lot of things were going to happen long before they actually did.
Isaac St. James strutted in with a James Dean swagger and the hair to match, making my heart catch at the sight of him. His jeans were tight and stylish. A plain white shirt hugged his slender chest, outlining the rivets of his muscles. Grease stained his hands from the motorcycle he drove. His boots’ shoelaces slapped the floor as he walked in.
I already knew of Isaac, because I was different, unique, a true blooded Nephil. Most Nephilim didn’t have such powerful abilities, because their lineage contained too much human blood from generations of intermarriages between Nephilim and humans. But my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and so on were all Nephilim, which meant my visions were extremely powerful. I saw the future long before it happened, and mine had just walked in the door.
His friends crashed through behind Isaac. They laughed too loudly at something he said as he led them to their normal table. A red haired girl, who must have poured herself into her jeans that morning, took Isaac’s arm. He smirked at me, the mousy new girl, as they walked past.
I wasn’t foolish. I knew what he saw when he looked at me. My body tended toward awkward, undeveloped, and un-developing, with my flat chest and lack of soft, squeezable curves. This morning, in an attempt to look pretty, I’d pulled my long blond locks back with a faded ribbon, but after my first full day working in the diner, it felt dirty. My nametag read Iris because I had no last name. Yet.
I returned Isaac’s smirk with a bright, overeager smile, but he was already ignoring me. My eyes followed him as he and his friends flopped into a ripped red booth in a tangle of limbs and the sort of obnoxious teenaged chatter I’d always found annoying even though I was around the same age.
“Iris?” I jerked, looking back at a slightly annoyed Evelyn.
“Did you hear what I just said?” She leaned back, pressing her stubby hand into her round, cocked hip. She popped her gum. Over my shoulder, a bell shrilled in the kitchen.
“You told me to reuse the napkins if they look clean enough,” I said. So gross. Evelyn frowned, sure I hadn’t been paying attention. “Can I take a table now?” I pointed where Isaac sat.
Evelyn snorted. “Sure. Take that table. Those kids tip like shit.”
She turned and left me with a bundle of poorly wrapped utensils. I hurriedly grabbed my notepad and pen. After a deep breath, I turned around and tried to saunter over to Isaac’s table, but I tripped across a sticky spot on the floor and stumbled, dropping my notepad. A deep red blush spread across my cheeks even before I looked up to them laughing. The red haired girl pointed, snickering as I bent to pick up my pad. The girl whispered in Isaac’s ear, making him laugh.
I reached their table where I waited patiently, pen poised above paper. My smile faltered only slightly as I waited for them to acknowledge me. They didn’t.
“What can I get for you today?” I asked, speaking over his friends. I meant the whole group, but I looked at Isaac, who was sprawled across the booth, his armed draped across the girl’s shoulders. A small bead of sweat rolled down the side of his tanned neck.
“How ‘bout a beer?” Isaac looked at me but didn’t really see me. His foot jigged incessantly against the floor.
“You’re too young,” I said quickly, too quickly. My voice squeaked.
“How do you know?” Isaac narrowed his eyes, challenging me.
“Because she, like, probably stalks you or something,” the girl answered. Isaac pulled her tight against his lean chest and planted a wet, sloppy kiss on her puckered lips.
Watching him kiss another girl was a slug to the gut, because I knew exactly how his lips would feel against mine. He would never kiss me that sloppily, like he didn’t care. I forced myself not to look away from the disgusting spectacle. He didn’t know about me yet, but when he did, the red haired ditz would be the last thing on his mind. My smile barely slipped, though I struggled to keep it in place.
I was in this small town for a reason. I knew about Isaac St. James and his careless, reckless ways. I was prepared for how he’d ignore me and make jokes about my lanky, clumsy body, but it wouldn’t be like this for long.
One day soon he would see how my hair was a blond of silver and gold when I stood in the sun. He would wonder why he had never noticed the cerulean blue of my eyes. When he falls in love with me, he would hold me tighter than he had ever held any girl before. I could picture how Isaac would rub my swelling belly, looking at me with wonder watering in his eyes. I had seen our baby, felt his precious weight in my arms. I had even seen how Isaac would die.
But now one of Isaac’s friends was speaking to me.
“Why aren’t you in school?” he asked, his voice taunting.
The group stared at me, waiting for me to be a normal teenager. But I wasn’t. My stomach rolled like I might be sick.
“I’ll give you all a minute to think about what you want.” My voice was tight.
I turned and hurried to the kitchen. Thankfully the cook was outside smoking a cigarette beside the Dumpster. The kitchen’s quiet was a nice reprieve from the clanging of pots, swear words, and Waylon Jennings that normally blared from the worn boom box in the window.
I leaned onto the counter and fanned my clammy face. The pollen-laden air from the open window was the sort of muggy unique to Kentucky’s summer. A tiny trickle of sweat ran between my shoulder blades. My lower back already ached. I rubbed my fist across the sore muscles.
“You’re fine,” I told myself, although my voice trembled slightly. “You can handle this.”
When I came to this forgotten, one red-light town in Kentucky, I knew what I was getting myself into. This town was built for the Descendents of Enoch, the keeper of the angels, and was flooded with Descendents both old and young, including Isaac and his friends. And I was a Nephil, half human and half angel. Nephilim were hunted and killed by the angels and the Descendents, which meant I was on enemy ground. If I gave myself away, I would be imprisoned, tortured for information, and then killed. My soul would never return home and my grave would be shallow and unmarked.
But my future was here with Isaac no matter the danger. It was a risk I would have to take, because I had seen what would happen if I didn’t come here and find Isaac.
I straightened off the counter, smoothing my itchy mothball skirt. It was too long to be fashionable and too tight in all the wrong places to be comfortable. I needed a moment to settle my newfound nerves. I didn’t get one.
“Hey, can we get some service out here?” The voice was annoyed and clipped.
I turned. Isaac stood in the doorway, arms crossed impatiently. His brows rose as he waited for me to react. The sight of him made my palms sweet. I already loved him.
“Hello,” Isaac said. He waved my hand in front of my face. “Anyone in there?”
I smiled, nodding. “Sure thing.”
I brushed past him, making certain my bare arm brushed his as I went. My skin hummed from the contact, sparking like a live wire against his. I heard Isaac’s sharp intake of breath as I walked away, a bright smile on my face.
Clark stared into his mother’s blue eyes, which were perfect replicas of his. He should be overcome with joy, weeping with relief. He should want to hear about the first time she met his father. Seeing her face and knowing she wasn’t dead should’ve brought him endless happiness.
Apparently he’d gone crazy.
Because he looked into her eyes and remembered the last twelve years of his life. Her death and absence had tortured him, scarred him. He questioned his entire existence and purpose in life because of her murder. But it was all a lie. The anguish he’d felt was a waste, because she wasn’t dead; she’d abandoned him and his father. Now he saw her, and the rage grew. He tried not to yell at her as he shifted in bed, struggling against the sheets forming traps around his legs.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about the first time you met Isaac.” Clark used his father’s name on purpose. It felt wrong calling him dad in front of…in front of her.
Iris’s face fell marginally. She sat on the edge of the bed next to him. Maybe that’s why he had the strong desire to escape from the sheets and run. He wished he could’ve run. Three days after the attack in the woods, and he was only able to roll around in a wheelchair for a few hours a day.
“I thought you might like to hear about your father and me.” Iris’s voice was warm and comforting, but Clark didn’t care about being comforted.
“I’ve always hated fairytales, which you’d know if you hadn’t been murdered by fallen angels who forced your car off a road and down a ravine. Oh wait, just kidding!” Clark waved his hands in the air until the wound to his stomach hurt. “Surprise! You’re alive. It was all pretend.” Clark rolled his eyes at his mother. “So just drop it. I want to know what happened when Gabriel was here earlier.” Even from the porch, he’d seen Michaela’s reaction to Gabriel. From the looks of the storm their anger had conjured, Clark suspected the meeting wasn’t all warm and fuzzy.
“That’s probably something Michaela should tell you.” Iris smoothed the sheets, her face impassive. She wore the traditional Amish dress. Her bonnet was black and orderly as was her apron.
Clark knew the Nephilim needed to stay hidden. Perhaps hiding on an Amish farm was the best option. He had tried to understand for the first few days. Now he just wanted a television to drown out the silence. And a bottle of Jack Daniels.
“Well, Michaela isn’t here to tell me. So why don’t you?”
Iris’s eyes were unwavering on Clark’s face, making him uncomfortable. “The Aethere didn’t eliminate the hybrids like she thought. They’re still loose and killing a lot of humans.”
He wasn’t surprised. Michaela had hoped the Aethere would take care of the hybrids before their deal with Lucifer was uncovered. But she’d put too much faith in the holy angels. Again.
“Why the crap did Gabriel have to tell her this? We’ve been here for, like, three days. Why didn’t you tell her since you like telling stories so much?” He thought about Michaela standing out in the field an hour ago. Gabriel had blindsided her with that information. No wonder she’d looked devastated.
“We thought the Aethere might still come, and Michaela was healing from her injuries. We didn’t understand the gravity of the situation,” Iris said. “Michaela told us the hybrids can only be killed a certain way. She killed one using the Watcher’s language for fire.”
Clark knew the words she meant. Michaela had spoken them to Cassie to kill her in the research facility. He’d used them to burn the Seraphim on the road in Charleston. But the hybrids were an unnatural blend of human and angel—manufactured Nephilim—and weren’t susceptible to angel bone or water.
“That’s the only way they can be killed?”
Iris nodded. “It’s caused problems obviously. Only she knew. The Descendents are trying to help, but no one is much good without Michaela.”
Clark sighed heavily. “No doubt she’ll be in here bitching about leaving soon then. I mean, I was like, just stabbed by a freaking Watcher with a freaking sword, but she won’t care. It’ll be all Heaven must not fall and blah, blah, blah.” He struggled to straighten farther up in bed. He glanced around the sparse room, his eyes settling on his few belongings. “I’ll need to get ready cause she’ll be in a hurry.”
Iris was frowning. Clark caught a certain look in her eye and grew cold. “What?” he asked.
“Clark,” Iris began, “Michaela’s gone.”
“Yeah. We’ll be leaving.” Clark motioned between him and Iris. “We can do this family reunion shit later. I help her. It’s what we do.”
Iris didn’t answer or look away or help him gather her things. She sat very still at the edge of his bed.
“Why aren’t you moving?”
“She’s gone,” Iris said carefully. “She left hours ago. We talked, and she took some Nephilim with her to help fight. She’s gone.”
Left hours ago.
Clark was in a fog, but the words slowly made their way to him. And when they did, they leveled him, crushed him. His head swam as he realized Michaela had left for Charleston without him. She’d left him behind. She’d abandoned him.
His heart hammered. The small room’s walls closed in. Pressure built in his throat until he almost choked.
“Why? Why did she leave me?” he asked, sounding desperate.
“She has a responsibility, Clark,” Iris said. She reached for his hand, but he jerked it back. He shook his head.
“No. She would’ve taken me.” The stab wound from the Watcher’s sword pulsed. The pain radiated out like a sun, making him dizzy and feverish. But with the pain was anger. “What did he say to her?”
“Gabriel! What did he say to her that made her so upset?” He pictured the way Michaela had looked in the field with her shoulders slumped and her arms wound tightly around her body. Michaela wouldn’t have left him here if she didn’t have a good reason. Gabriel must have told her something.
For a long moment he didn’t think Iris was going to tell him, but he was too tired and shaky to demand her to. So he glared his best “tell me. I’m stubborn” glare. Finally, she said, “He’d signed his soul over to Lucifer.”
Clark blinked in surprise. “Uh, excuse me? What did you say?”
“He gave his soul to Lucifer so that he could leave Hell and go to her. He didn’t know we were already there. He thought she was going to die.”
Clark thought about that as the pain wove through his body. Gabriel felt like he needed to save Michaela. So he gave his soul to Lucifer. To anyone else that was probably poetic and romantic. But to Clark, that was so…so…annoying.
“He was pissed though,” Clark said. He’d seen Gabriel’s face. The way he’d grabbed Michaela and shook her like she was some human rag doll.
“He was,” Iris said. She watched him closely. “Are you in pain?” She reached for him again, but again, Clark pulled away. He didn’t want her magic or her whispered words to bring relief to the growing pain in his stomach.
Many generations separated the current Nephilim from their forefathers, the Watchers, but the Nephilim’s bloodline was still strong enough to lend them a form of the Watchers’ magic. It wasn’t nearly as powerful. Nephilim couldn’t control the weather or elements the way the Watchers could. Clark had seen the destruction of a Watcher’s magic; he knew first hand. The Nephilim’s magic had grown weaker throughout generations. It was only a feeble reflection of what the Watchers were capable of.
“She loved him,” Clark said almost to himself. He looked up at Iris. “She loved him. And he was pissed at her? What a stupid dick.”
“Clark.” Iris frowned at his language. “Don’t blaspheme the angels.”
Clark was about to tell her what the angels could do to themselves when someone knocked and entered the room. It was the Nephil from the research facility. Clark recognized her beautiful hair.
“Clark, you remember Sophia. You saved her life.” Iris gestured to Sophia. The Nephil was petite and looked like a porcelain doll in her dress and bonnet. She curtsied a little, but Clark ignored her.
“Why was he mad at her?”
Iris and Sophia exchanged a glance before Iris said, “He was upset because she’d let the hybrids go.”
Clark sucked in a breath. Clearly, Gabriel had broken her heart when Michaela needed him most. His fists clenched around the sheets. He’d most likely broken her heart and made her feel ashamed for letting the hybrids go. That pious prick probably made her cry because she was wrong about the Aethere taking care of the hybrids. Of course, Michaela would blame herself for the humans dying. She already did. But Gabriel had shamed her.
She was hurt, and Clark wasn’t with her to make her feel better.
He released his hold on the sheets and put his hands in his lap. He stared at them as the heaving in his chest subsided. The pain in his stomach made his eyes water. A dull throb started in the back of his head. Tears crawled up his throat. If he gave in to the desperation, he would be reduced to sobs in seconds.
Instead, Clark settled back into bed with a grimace. She was gone. And she wouldn’t be back until she’d killed every last one of the hybrids. But she’d be back. Clark knew that with certainty. She wouldn’t leave him. By not saying goodbye, she was telling him she’d come for him. They were friends. Best friends. She wouldn’t hurt him like this.
Although it did hurt. It hurt not having her there with him. Her absence hurt him worse than the pain in his stomach. He turned his head away and started at the wall.
Iris and Sophia whispered, weaving a healing magic over him as their hands skimmed his side. The hairs on his arm stood on end, and he remembered the dark trees and lightning in the sky from that night of the Watchers’ attack. But their magic was the good kind, and it took away his fever and pains. They left the room after a moment, closing the door quietly behind them.
Clark stared unblinking at the wall. His faith in Michaela had never been a waste. Not like his faith in his mother.
“She’ll be back,” he said to no one. “She’ll be back.”
He repeated the words until he fell asleep.
Michaela drove far faster than Clark would’ve ever considered. It surprised her that her thoughts kept returning to him. She pictured him lying in bed, his stomach wrapped in bandages. Her hands tightened around the wheel until her knuckles turned white.
The Watcher should’ve stabbed her. Not Clark.
Thankfully, Iris didn’t blame her for Clark’s injury. But the three days she’d spent on the farm had still been uncomfortable amongst the Nephilim. They were a race of creatures she’d worked hard to exterminate. And yet they let her sleep in a room as they tended to her wounds even if their politeness was forced and slightly aloof.
When Gabriel had come earlier today, she’d been relieved. Excited. Tremblingly hopeful. She’d wanted a break from the quiet steadiness of the Amish Nephilim.
She hadn’t gotten it.
The SUV she’d borrowed from Iris flew down the road, her foot pressing the accelerator farther as her anger grew. She was sorry about the humans dying. She really was. But she wouldn’t overestimate the Aethere ever again. They were no better than the fallen. They gave holy angels a bad name.
The snake tightened around Michaela’s spine. She needed to hurt something. She would arrive in Charleston soon, and when she killed the first hybrid, she was going to picture Abel’s face as she whispered the words in the Watchers’ language.
She was close enough to the city that it was time to call Isaac. Her eyes drifted over the cell phone Iris had given her. Michaela had spent the last few hours on the road trying to work up her courage to call, but it wasn’t coming anytime soon. With a grimace, she reached over and picked up the phone.
Isaac’s number was the only one in the cell. She pushed send, her eyes finding their way back to the road. It would be dark soon. The sun was dull and drained of color as it descended. She focused when the phone started to ring. She held her breath.
Michaela felt a chill at the way Isaac said Iris’s name. Gabriel had spoken her name like that before their fight. “No,” she said. “It’s me. It’s Michaela.”
Isaac paused on the other end. “Is everything okay?”
Before Michaela had left the farm in Pennsylvania, Iris had told her Isaac already knew Iris was alive and a Nephil. He’d known all along. Her death twelve years ago had been set up to facilitate her exit from the Descendents’ society. Like Clark had said, it was an order of blood, whether you were born or married into it. Only death allowed departure.
“Everyone’s fine,” Michaela said. “Iris gave me her phone. But I’m coming to you. Are you in Charleston?”
Isaac breathed a sigh of relief. It crackled through the phone. “That’s good. That’s really good. Yes, we’re here.”
“Isaac, I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner. I didn’t know.” Michaela was growing tired of apologies, but she only had one more to make after this. “I know it was a mistake to let the hybrids go, but I’ll help you kill every last one. We can fix this.”
“We understand, Michaela,” Isaac said. He lowered his voice. “Anyone would’ve done what you did in that situation.”
“I don’t think so.” Michaela’s thoughts went to Gabriel and all he’d said. Her eyes narrowed on the road.
“Yes. They would’ve.” Isaac emphasized every word. “It was a hard decision to make, but we know why you did it. Are you bringing some Nephilim with you?” Isaac’s voice softened. “Is she with you?”
“No,” Michaela said. “But she did send some Nephilim. They are traveling separately in case I’m caught.”
“Okay. That’s good. There’s not much angel activity down here though. I haven’t seen one holy angel since the outbreak. I’ll text you our location. And one more thing…”
“What?” Michaela asked.
The phone died in Michaela’s ear. Isaac had hung up on her. She stared at the sleek phone in her hand for a moment. Its glowing screen went black before she tucked it away in the console.
She reached for the radio and found a thumping rock station. She turned it up to levels that would’ve impressed Clark. She thought of his pink hair and sarcastic remarks with a smile. He would be healed by the time she got back. She would take care of the hybrids and go back to Clark, to her friend. Together, they’d decide what to do next.
Gabriel had broken her heart, but she was strong now and she knew what needed to be done. She pictured Abel’s blood on her hands and accelerated even faster as the sun folded into the horizon, her smile dripping vengeance.
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