The Kids Are All Right
WHEN the final bell sounded at Bryce Hamilton, Xavier and I gathered our things and headed out onto the south lawn. The weather forecast had predicted a clear afternoon, but the sun was fighting an uphill battle and the sky remained a cheerless, gunmetal gray. Occasionally the watery sunlight broke through and fingers of light danced across the grounds, warming the back of my neck.
"Are you coming over for dinner tonight?" I asked Xavier, linking my arm through his. "Gabriel wants to try making burritos."
Xavier looked across at me and laughed.
"I'm just thinking," he said. "How come in all the paintings, angels are depicted guarding thrones in Heaven or taking out demons? I wonder why they're never shown in the kitchen making burritos."
"Because we have a reputation to uphold," I said, nudging him. "So are you coming?"
"Can't." Xavier sighed. "I promised my kid sister I'd stay home and carve pumpkins."
"Shoot. I keep forgetting about Halloween."
"You should try and get into the spirit of it," Xavier said. "Everyone around here takes it very seriously."
I knew he wasn't exaggerating; jack-o'-lanterns and plaster headstones already adorned every front porch in town in honor of the occasion.
"I know," I said. "But the whole idea creeps me out. Why would anyone want to dress up as ghosts and zombies? It's like everyone's worst nightmares coming to life."
"Beth." Xavier stopped walking and took hold of my shoulders. "It's a holiday, lighten up!"
He was right. I needed to stop being so wary. It was six months now since the ordeal with Jake Thorn and things couldn't have been better. Peace had returned to Venus Cove and I'd grown more attached to the place than ever. Nestled on the picturesque Georgia coastline, the sleepy little town in Sherbrooke County had become my home. With its pretty balconies and ornate shopfronts, Main Street was so quaint it could have been an image on a postcard. In fact, everything from the cinema to the old courthouse exuded the Southern charm and gentility of a long-forgotten era.
Over the past year the influence of my family had spread and transformed Venus Cove into a model town. The church congregation had tripled in numbers, charity missions had more volunteers than they could handle, and reported incidents of crime were so few and far between that the sheriff was forced to find other things to occupy his time. Nowadays the only disputes that happened were minor, like drivers arguing over who saw a parking space first. But that was just humannature. It couldn't be changed and it wasn't our job to try and change it.
But the best development of all was that Xavier and I had grown even closer. I looked across at him. He was just as breathtakingly beautiful as ever. His tie hung loose and his blazer was slung casually over one shoulder. I could feel his taut body occasionally brushing against mine as we walked side by side, our footsteps falling in time. Sometimes it was easy to think of us as one entity.
Since the violent encounter with Jake last year, Xavier had hit the gym even harder and thrown himself into sports more vigorously. I knew he was doing it so he'd be better equipped to protect me, but that didn't mean I couldn't enjoy the perks. Xavier had more definition in his chest and washboard abs. He was still slender and perfectly proportioned, but I could see the muscles in his arms rippling beneath the fine cotton of his shirt. I looked up at his refined features: his straight nose, high cheekbones, and full lips. In the light of the sun, his walnut-colored hair was streaked with gold and his almond-shaped eyes were like liquid blue topaz. On his ring finger he now wore the gift I'd given him after he had helped me recover from Jake's attack. It was a thick silver band etched with three symbols of faith: a five-point star to represent the star of Bethlehem; a trefoil to honor the three persons of the Holy Trinity; and the initials IHS, an abbreviation of Ihesus, the way Christ's name was spelled in the Middle Ages. I'd had an identical one made for me and I liked to think they were our special version of a promise ring. Another person who'd witnessed as much as Xavier had mighthave lost all faith in Our Father, but Xavier had strength of mind and spirit. He'd made a commitment to us and I knew that nothing could persuade him to break it.
My train of thought was broken when we bumped into a group of Xavier's friends from the water-polo team in the parking lot. I knew some of them by name and caught the tail end of their conversation.
"I can't believe Wilson hooked up with Kay Bentley," a boy named Lawson snickered. He was still bleary-eyed from whatever misadventure had taken place over the weekend. I knew from experience it probably involved a keg and willful damage to property.
"It's his funeral," someone muttered. "Everyone knows she's done more miles than my dad's vintage Chrysler."
"I don't care so long as it wasn't on my bed. I'd have to burn everything."
"Don't worry, man, pretty sure they were out on the back lawn."
"I was so wasted, I don't remember a damn thing," Lawson declared.
"I remember you tried to hook up with me," replied a boy named Wesley in his lilting accent. He contorted his face into a grimace.
"Whatever ... it was dark. You could do a lot worse."
"Not funny," Wesley growled. "Someone posted a picture on Facebook. What am I gonna tell Jess?"
"Tell her you couldn't resist Lawson's ripped body." Xavier thumped his friend on the back as he sauntered past. "He's really built from all those hours on the PlayStation."
I laughed as Xavier pulled open the door of his sky blue Chevy Bel Air convertible. I climbed in, stretched out, and breathed in the familiar smell of the leather seats. I loved the car almost as much as Xavier did now. It had been with us from the very beginning, from our first date at Sweethearts Café to the showdown with Jake Thorn at the cemetery. Though I'd never admit it, I'd come to think of the Chevy as having a personality of its own. Xavier turned the key in the ignition and the car roared to life. They seemed to move in sync--as if they were attuned to each other.
"So have you come up with a costume yet?"
"For what?" I asked blankly.
Xavier shook his head. "For Halloween. Try to keep up!"
"Not yet," I admitted. "I'm still working on it. What about you?"
"How do you feel about Batman?" Xavier asked with a wink. "I've always wanted to be a superhero."
"You just want to pretend you drive a Batmobile."
Xavier gave a guilty smile. "Damn it! You know me too well."
When we reached number 15 Byron Street, Xavier leaned across and pressed his lips against mine. His kiss was soft and sweet. I felt the outside world fall away as I melted into him. His skin was smooth beneath my fingers and his scent, fresh and clean as ocean air, enveloped me. It was mingled with a touch of something stronger--like vanilla and sandalwood combined. I kept one of Xavier's T-shirts, dowsed in his cologne, under my pillow so that every night I could imagine he was with me. It was funny how the goofiest behavior could feel perfectly natural when you were in love. I knew therewere people who rolled their eyes at Xavier and me, but if they did, we were too absorbed in each other's company to notice.
When Xavier pulled away from the curb, I snapped back to reality, like someone waking from a deep sleep.
"I'll pick you up tomorrow morning," he called out with a dreamy smile. "Usual time."
I stood in our tangled front yard watching until the Chevy finally turned off at the end of the street.
Byron was still my haven and I loved retreating there. Everything was soothingly familiar, from the creaking steps on the front porch to the large and airy rooms inside. It felt like a safe cocoon away from the turbulence of the world. It was true to say that while I loved human life, it scared me sometimes. The earth had problems--problems almost too large and too complex to fully comprehend. Thinking about them made my head spin. It also made me feel ineffectual. But Ivy and Gabriel had told me to stop wasting my energy and focus on our mission. There were plans for us to visit other cities and towns in the vicinity of Venus Cove to expel any dark forces residing there. Little did we know they would find us before we had a chance to find them.
Dinner was already underway when I got home. My brother and sister were out on the deck. They were each engaged in solitary activities; Ivy had her nose in a book and Gabriel was deep in concentration, composing on his guitar. His expert fingers massaged the chords gently and they seemed to answer his silent command. I joined them and knelt down to pat my dog, Phantom, who was sleeping soundly with his headresting on his giant, silky paws. He stirred at my touch, his silvery body as sleek as ever. He looked up at me with his sad, moonlight eyes, and I imagined his expression to say: Where have you been all day?
Ivy lay semi-recumbent in the hammock, her golden hair flowing down to her waist. It looked resplendent in the light of the setting sun. My sister didn't quite know how to relax in a hammock; she looked too poised and reminded me of a mythical creature who had somehow found herself unceremoniously plonked in a world that made no sense to her. She was wearing a pastel blue muslin dress and had even set up a frilly parasol, to protect her from the fading sunlight. No doubt she'd found it in some vintage shop and couldn't resist buying it.
"Where did you get that?" I laughed. "I think they went out of fashion a while ago."
"Well, I think it's charming," said Ivy, laying down the novel she'd been reading. I took a peek at the cover.
"Jane Eyre?" I asked dubiously. "You do know it's a love story, right?"
"I'm aware," said my sister huffily.
"You're turning into me!" I teased.
"I highly doubt I could ever be as swooning and silly as you are," Ivy replied in a matter-of-fact tone but her eyes were playful.
Gabriel stopped strumming his guitar to look over at us.
"I don't think anybody could outdo Bethany in that department," he said with a smile. He put down his guitar carefully and went to lean against the railing, staring out to sea. As usualGabe stood arrow straight, his white-blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. His steel gray eyes and his sculpted features made him look like the celestial warrior he was--but he was dressed like a human in faded jeans and a loose shirt. His face was open and friendly. I was pleased to see that Gabriel was more relaxed these days. I felt as if both my siblings were less critical of me, more accepting of the choices I'd made.
"How is it you always get home before me?" I complained. "When I take a car and you walk!"
"I have my ways," my brother replied with a secretive smile. "Besides, I don't have to pull over every two minutes to express my affection."
"We do not pull over to express affection!" I objected.
Gabriel raised an eyebrow. "So that wasn't Xavier's car parked two blocks from school?"
"Maybe it was." I tossed my head nonchalantly, hating how he was always right. "But every two minutes is a slight exaggeration !"
Ivy's heart-shaped face glowed as she broke into a laugh. "Oh, Bethany, relax. We're used to the PDAs by now."
"Where did you learn that?" I asked curiously. I'd never heard Ivy use abbreviated colloquialisms. Her formal speech usually sounded so out of place in the modern world.
"I do spend time with young people, you know," she said. "I'm trying to be hip."
Gabriel and I burst out laughing.
"In that case, don't say hip for starters," I advised.
Ivy leaned down to ruffle my hair affectionately andchanged the subject. "I hope you don't have plans for this weekend."
"Can Xavier come?" I asked eagerly before she'd even had a chance to explain what she and Gabe had in mind. Xavier had long become a fixture in my life. Even when we were apart, it seemed there was no activity or distraction that could keep my thoughts from straying back to him.
Gabriel pointedly rolled his eyes. "If he must."
"Of course he must," I said, grinning. "So what's the plan?"
"There's a town called Black Ridge twenty miles from here," my brother said. "We've been told they're experiencing some ... disturbances."
"You mean demonic disturbances?"
"Well, three girls have gone missing in the last month and a perfectly sound bridge collapsed onto passing traffic."
I winced. "Sounds like our kind of problem. When do we leave?"
"Saturday," Ivy said. "So you better rest up."
HADES. Copyright © 2011 by Alexandra Adornetto. All rights reserved.