I tentatively knock on the door, weary of the large floral print glued to its wooden frame reading ‘Private: Keep out.’ Out of all my problems, a rebellious teenager should be the last on my list but yet here I am. Perhaps it is easier to deal with than a threat from the Devil himself, or accepting the loss of Tymician. Or perhaps it is more familiar. I know how to help Miley. I know how to ease her pain and grief. But the others, Lucius ensnaring me to betray one family member for another, or the death of a man I’ve considered immortal, I don’t know what to do with either of them.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me, Miley.”
The silent debate to let me in gnaws on my patience but when the door unlocks and swings open, I greet her with a delighted smile.
Stepping into her room, I tend to feel off kilter with the world. The twins took great pleasure in designing their own room. Two queen sized beds fit this massive space. It is separated by a large reading nook, that would be perfect for a person that adores books. Yet the twins are hardly readers. They instead filled it will DVDs and Blu Rays and the love seat has Justin Bieber pillows.
Miley plops down on her pink zebra striped sheets, stuffing a fluffy purple pillow under her arms before flipping through People’s magazine, “What do you want?”
“I want to talk.” I pluck it out of her hands and toss it on her nightstand, knocking over ten different colors of nail polish. She curses me and goes about fixing their structure as I shut off the music on her computer. I sit on the edge of her bed and wait for her to acknowledge my existence.
Miley snatches the fluffy pillow once more and sits against the bed frame, pulling her long white legs into her chest. “Talk.”
Her brows rise. It’s a silent sarcastic rebuttal that screams, ‘obviously’ in a very bitter tone.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here when they made the announcement. I thought they would wait for me.”
She picks at her nail, “They don’t seem to care about any of us. Least of all you.”
“The Elders care, Miley. They are simply very old and lack typical emotion.”
“They broadcasted on the entire Fallen website! We had a right to know first. We were his family.”
I reach out for her but she kicks away.
Burying her face into the pillow, I make out a muffled bellow. “I can’t even cry. My chest feels like it caved in and I can’t even cry.”
In her moment of weakness, I squeeze in next to her and wrap my arm over her shoulders. She falls against my chest and curls into my side.
I’m thankful for her grief. With all this chaos, I hadn’t had the time. She can mourn for the both of us because I refuse to allow myself to let go. I don’t want to give up on Tymician. It’s purely selfish, I realize. If I admit he’s dead, then I’d actually have to face the fact that he’s not coming back and I can’t do that right now.
My phone vibrates and I quickly answer, “Yes, Misha.” I sooth Miley’s hair, hoping she’ll fall asleep.
“There’s been another Vetelas attack.”
My muscles tighten. “Where?”
“Washington DC. I cannot be certain if it is your Angel but the coincidence is too high. Did you form your team?”
“I would hurry. Erelim Elder Isis seems just as interested in this as we are.”
I could spend all afternoon easing Miley’s sadness but I have to get moving. I kiss her atop her head and rush out. As I’m bouncing down the steps toward the living room, my anxiousness slows meeting Elder Phil at the door to my house.
“Good Afternoon.” He greets.
“My lord.” I bypass him to snatch my shoes and sit on the couch.
“You can say that. I come home to find all my wards are a wreck.”
He feigns sympathy. “I told you we would make the announcement of Tymician’s death.”
“I asked you to wait.”
“Felix, whether you’d like to face this situation or not, it is here. I’m sorry you do not approve of our method but informing four thousand clan mates individually that he is gone would simply take too long--”
I snap to my feet, “We were not just clan members to him!” I curl my fist, retracting my voice, “We’re family.”
“Do you know how many think of him as family?” His black brows narrow, “All of them. He is their father. Their brother, uncle, best friend. Tymician is many things to many people. Not just in Kio, but in all clans. Angel clans as well. I’m not saying he didn’t have enemies but even enemies respected such a man. So what? Do we stop moving and lie in our grief? Do we conduct a funeral to honor him and reminisce about the good old days? Please, do not be so human. We honor him by protecting the foundation that he built. This clan. If you do not take your place, Kio will be torn apart by the ferocious Elders clawing for its throne.”
I fall back on the couch, scratching my scalp. “I am two thousand years old, Phil. I am nothing in comparison to you, to the Elders. What rights do I have?” My failure to protect Eric and Tristan during the Messiah siege springs up in my face. “I. I can barely form a Net.”
As surprising as it is, he smiles.
Phil sits on the coffee table, slapping my knee. “That is exactly why Tymician chose you. The Elders all believe that they know better than everyone else. They already want to reshape, remodel, and restructure. They have no heart, Felix. They aren’t leaders. But you…” He looks around, directing his hand, “Have exactly the kind of mentality that Kio needs. Look at your family.” His brown gaze meets mine. “You put family first. This fight you put up, I expected it and I expect nothing more or less. Now you must fight against those that mean you and your family harm. I mean you only protection. The faster you become the sole head of Kio, the better you can procure their safety.”
There is a picture above the fireplace. The whole gang stands in the grass, beaten and weary from a vital volleyball match we played last year against Morgantown, a Fallen town not too far from us. Eric hides his face in a white, grass-stained mask but I can see enough to find the edges of a smile through the fabric. Kyla bares only enough teeth to pass off as happiness. Tymician is in the center, his arm wrapped around me grinning as any joyful fool and I can’t help but mock him.
If I am leader of Kio, I’d be able to save Kyla and Eric both. I can keep the family together and when Tymician returns, he’ll be proud he left me in charge.
Phil readily seizes his briefcase and spreads out papers on the coffee table. There is a written request for Tymician’s will, a form placing me as head of household, and a documentation for the Ruling and the Elders to agree to the stipulations preceding Tymician’s death.
Guilt thickens in my belly. Any moment I expect Tymician to walk through the door and expel me from the clan for trying to swindle Kio from underneath him.
Phil keeps talking, distracting me from thinking. “I’ve contacted your Clan Liaison, who is--”
I snatch the pen off the table, ready to write my name, “I know my clan. Hikmah Elder Misha, house leader of Memphis. Green eyes, black hair. Likes strange dresses and carries a huge purse.”
Phil sits back in the recliner, taken aback by my demeanor. I should apologize but I pretend to be reading.
“And I’ve spoken with the leader of the GateKeepers.” He’s smug on my ignorance. “I believe there is a whole branch that Tymician kept from you. Mostly to do with security. He rarely relied on his armies. He didn’t need them fortunately but that did not mean they aren’t intact and sufficient. You will get to know them very well, I’m afraid.” He touches his ear. “We’re ready.” He heaves himself up, replacing the signed documents back in the briefcase “Come with me.”
I glance upstairs making sure the kids are still in their rooms before journeying after him. I trip over the rows of shoes piled at the door and swiftly stack them. When I come upon Kyla’s work shoes, I drift in thought. She hated shoes. She preferred sandals or simply nothing. How many times did I yell at her for going out without wearing anything on her feet?
Where is she? Why won’t she call home?
I dart out, allowing the screen door to bang behind me. I halt coming up beside Phil at the edge of the veranda. Six soldiers stand at the bottom of the steps. Muscle and brute force is all I see in front of me. They have guns strapped to their waists and knives wrapped at their thighs. They are a total cliché of mercenaries.
Phil is proud, like a peacock strutting before me with his display of feathers exposed. “This is your army. These soldiers have been bred to sacrifice their light for their king. There are others circling the city, making sure it’s secure.” He pats a mute ogre on the shoulder, looking at me seeking praise. “What do you think?”
“They have guns! No one is killing anyone.”
“You face enemies that are a hundred times stronger than you.”
I stutter in a response. He sees nothing wrong with this. How can I, a simply newborn, explain it to an Elder? He should see the hypocrisy himself. My life isn’t worth the death of anyone. Including an enemy.
I return to the house, my temper ready to explode. I find Tristan and Eric scouring the kitchen for something edible. I interrupt their snack feast by planning dinner, hoping to distract myself from the idealisms of Elders.
“So what happened back in the car?” Tristan wonders. “Elder Misha says you were pulled into Sheol. She seemed pretty concerned about it.”
“It was wicked insane.” Eric adds, munching on peanuts.
I pluck the can out of his hands and put them back in the pantry. “I’m fine. Any word on Meryl?”
“She ran back to her house when she found out about Ty.”
“Roger doesn’t get off work till five. I’m worried. Maybe we should go over there.”
Eric pops the top to a soda, “I wouldn’t. If she wanted to be with us, she’d be here.”
With the atmosphere verging on depressing, I get the boys up and helping with dinner. Tristan chops the cucumbers, Eric shreds the lettuce, and I cook the bacon and do everything else that goes into making Cobb salads. The boys have tiny attention spans. It will take them hours to finish their tasks.
Miley comes down the stairs in her bathing suit and just like that, my two helpers disappear and I’m alone. “Great.”
“Felix.” Phil enters the kitchen.
I lean against the counter, folding my arms. I can’t disrespect an Elder, certainly not one helping me. So I remain silent, hoping he can’t figure out the raging thoughts in my head.
“I had their guns removed, if you are so inclined to do without them.”
I clench my teeth. “Thank you.”
He holds out a tiny marble sized device. I’m too afraid to touch with my sausage fingers but he insists. “This is a Bluetooth communicator. It will keep us in contact at all times. We will know where you are and be able to send help to you at a moment’s notice.”
“Is this really necessary?”
“With your knack of underestimating an enemy much stronger and smarter than you, yes.” He smiles impishly. “Now, I hope you’ll agree to stay on the premises until the legal situation clears. It should only be a week or so. “
I chop a tomato if only to keep my attention elsewhere, “I’m still trying to locate my ward.”
“You can have one of your other subordinates unearth her, I’m sure.”
I fiddle with a wedge, “She’s important.”
I wipe my hands on a nearby towel, “Lucius pulled me into Sheol.” I watch my family swim and it makes the dreadful situation is not so terrible. “He said some things--”
“What does he want from you, Felix?”
His fear is palpable. It’s a sign that I’m in far over my head. I watch Eric get out of the pool. He is still covered in a long sleeve water shirt and pants. He cannonballs in, laughing as he emerges. Despite his constant need to hide, he is normal. He is healthy and happy. He can have thousands of years of life here with Tristian and with us. Lucius is wrong to assume Eric would chose to leave us. “My ward.”
Phil is at my side, gaining my swift attention, “You do what he says, Felix. Do you understand? He has ownership of your Soul. He will leave you alone if you do what he says.”
I return to my dinner. “Will you be eating with us?”
He laughs at me, seemingly forgetting the peril from moments ago with ease. “You lived with an Erelim, Felix. You must know food is repulsive.” He waves as he leaves through the living room, “Another five hundred years, you’ll get there too.”
I stare at the screen door. I’m a foolish kid to believe Tymician was still normal. But I’m even more of an idiot to think Phil will ever be able to replace my mentor.
Meryl and Roger arrive just in time for dinner, relieving me of any worry. I’d much rather everyone under one roof. I do like being in control and when something threatens that, I tend to latch onto the command I can manage with brutal force. My poor wards suffer from my smothering because of it.
I restrain myself from making any demands. Meryl and Roger are married. They own a home and have a three-year-old cat named snowball. Tymician gave it to them for their engagement shower. They have a life. I shouldn’t force her to stay here but I need her in my sight.
“So Roger,” Leon wonders settling at the dinner table, “What’s going on in Heaven? Any backlash from Tymician?”
He contemplates, pushing lettuce and meat around on his plate. “Nothing to do with Tymician, no but it’s weird umm.” He swallows a bite of food, smiling broadly as if he has some secret, “The Imperial Army is recruiting.” His brown eyes sparkle with excitement flickering across the table, searching for approval.
It takes only a short moment for his joy to dwindle noticing how our gaze stays glued to our plates in an effort to stay out of a private situation.
Meryl interrupts the silence, “What do you care about the Imperial Army, Roger?”
“Well, I just thought--”
“You didn’t think at all, is the truth. You Angels, I swear it. You’re selfish, is what you are.”
I attempt to calm her, “Meryl.”
“Stay out of it, Felix. This is between my Angel husband and me.”
Roger sits back, “Why do you do that? Why do you make this about our race? I want to be someone. I want to be a part of something. I left my clan to be with you, Meryl. Unlike Kio, they didn’t approve of us. And even Kio has its limitations. I’m not involved in its functions. I’m not a member. I’m outside, looking in.”
“It doesn’t have to be like that.”
“Sweetheart, I’m not begrudging you or your clan. I am thankful that we are together. The fact remains, we are still so far from integrating. Without Tymician…” He touches her shoulder, “I feel we are even farther.” He turns back to his food, “I was simply thinking that’s all.”
I place down my fork and observe the faces of my wards. I wonder what they think but more importantly, I wonder what the four thousand other members of my clan are thinking. I need to get my face known. I need to get out there and let them know that Tymician’s reign isn’t over. His ideals don’t end because he’s gone. I plan to uphold everything that he did, and perhaps make it better than it was.
I stand, gaining their attention. “I want you all to understand something. Tymician may be gone, but I’m here and I plan to keep us going on the path he laid out. If that’s alright with you.”
“Hell yes.” Eric claps in excitement.
“Don’t curse at the table.”
It gets them laughing and the table stirs with energy now.
Miley’s bright blue eyes shine at me, “You’re going to be leader?”
I smile, forced and flat, “I’m going to try. Phil tells me if I don’t do it now, someone else will.”
“But you’re his heir.”
“Elders don’t seem to care about that.”
“While it isn’t right, I’m going to have to work fast.”
Leon holds up his glass. “We’re with you.”
Having them support me derails the stress. I think even Tymician needed this type of sustenance. It’s the only reason he came back to us month after month, year after year. For some reason this mix of people achieve where thousands of others fail.
I stare at Kyla’s empty seat. I’m more determined now to find her then I’ve ever been. Kyla is a part of this family, she’s part of the foundation Tymician needed and therefore she’s become the part that I need. I’ll protect her from Lucius. I’ll figure out how.
After dinner, I wash the plates with Miley at my side. Even with nothing new in her life, she manages to find something to talk about.
Meryl pounds down the kitchen steps, “Felix.” She gains my attention with her anxiousness. She holds up Kyla’s book bag.
I latch ahold of it and search for the phone. I silence it, but I’m unable to ignore the bright screen. Sixty-eight text messages await her. Fifteen voicemails go unheard.
Flipping through them, one thing is clear. “They all think she’s dead.” Miley and Meryl bunch up around me as I read a few out loud, “’You will be missed.’ ‘You made the best sandwiches, we love you’ ‘I’m sorry for your loss, our hearts are with you’. It’s all the same. It’s unbelievable.”
Miley giggles, “It’s unbelievable she had that many friends.” Meryl slaps her behind me. “Owe.”
Sitting down at a barstool, I listen to the voicemails. It is similar to the texts; friends sharing their condolences and respect. Some of them go on how they met Kyla and how generous and wonderful she was. I didn’t notice at that time Miley scouring through her book bag and opening her notebook.
“I just hate it here! Everyone’s so mean!” I snatch the book from her hand as she cackles, slamming a hand on the table, “What a freaking baby! Who else is glad she is gone!”
I’m out the front door, speeding down the sidewalk before they have time to reply. I hear the Bluetooth in my ear, “Eagle one is on the move.”
The sky darkens as dusk approaches. I hurry along a similar path Kyla took day after day, determined and alone. I want to know her. I want to know what made her so different. Why do so many people seem to adore her, and I was aloof to her existence?
At the stop sign, I turn down Bear Valley’s main street, passing luxury houses built decades ago. Dogs bark as I hustle along. Neighbors wave at me and I sense a foreboding sadness lingering in their stare.
As I get into town, it’s bustling with evening foot traffic. I feel the weight of their stares and hear distant whispers while I continue my trek, keeping my eyes on the crowd gathered around the sandwich shop.
I hear the communication link through my Bluetooth but I ignore it. Phil gets on a couple of times, asking me where I am going and if I’ll come back now.
I stand before Kyla’s workplace. It is aglow. Candles decorate the front sidewalk, illuminating poster boards and cards. Teddy bears and large bouquets of flowers sit on pedestals and on the windowsills. Glued to the front door is a blown up picture of Kyla. ‘RIP’ is written above it. She beams at the camera in her worker’s uniform; her hair twists over her shoulder. She wears her scarf to hide her shameful scar. But she’s beautiful in the image. She’s never smiled like that at home. Not once.
I look at the items in my hands. The phone that holds the numbers to so many friends that I’ve never met and the five-star notebook that stores all of her life happenings that I don’t know about.
How could this person live with me all these years and I have no idea who she really was?
“Sad, huh?” On my right is a middle-aged man gazing at the shop. He wears a hat over his black short hair and has his hands stuffed in the pockets of his jacket. As if it’s cold in the first week of July.
“You know her?”
I stare at the image of her bright grin. “No.” I look at him, “You?”
“Just started getting sandwiches from this place last week, she made one heck of a tuna.” He grins sheepishly.
My left ear sounds, “Step away, sir. He’s an Angel.”
I analyze his features, putting his face to memory. I begin to step back, “Well, have a good one.” As I leave the scene behind, I rub my face, talking to my Bluetooth. “What’s he doing in my town?”
Phil enters out of a bookstore, which I can’t begin to explain how creepy that was. He stuffs a newspaper under his arm and explains. “They are testing your security. I heard about the run-in with the Messiah. They think you’re weak. Killing you in your own city seems feasible to them now.”
“He’s part of the Messiah?”
“Possibly. You have to acknowledge that the Elders will search for ways to get rid of you. Hired assassins that are untraceable are their best bet. You see, they can’t actually kill you themselves.”
“No,” I reply sarcastically, “Because that would be treason.”