Gideon

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20

We collided, head first, into a high bank of snow on the side of the mountain and burrowed deep into it. My first thought was to first get rid of Edward Dorkface, but I had nothing. I’d spent every last bit of ammo I had trying to get rid of him the first time.

Speaking of time, I was running short on it. My Mortal was dying.

I thumped Edward hard in the face with my elbow and kicked him off of me. The demon swore curses as I whacked him hard in the gut and made a run for it. Well, sort of made a run for it. With each leap, my leg would sink up to my knees in the powdery white snow. I was halfway to the snowmobile when Edward rugby tackled me from behind.

“You’ll never reach her in time,” he hissed in my ear. “She is doomed to die. Accept it!”

Not if I could help it. My fist found his mouth and punched him hard as I struggled to my feet again. He grabbed my ankle and I tripped face first into more powdery white stuff. It got down my throat and in my eyes and ears. I was beginning to really hate snow.

“Get off me!” I grunted as I peeled his fingers away and kicked him. I got him with a solid round kick to the side of the head and he freed me. I scrambled on all four limbs until I could get enough momentum to plow through the snow. This time I got all the way to the crash site and vaulted over the busted snowmobile.

Katelyn and Greg were there. Greg looked fine, but Katelyn had a bruise forming on her forehead, a bloody nose and her foot was broken at an unnatural angle. They shivered violently in the cold, who knows how long they had been out here in the elements, but it was obvious it had been long enough. Both Mortals had hunkered down next to each other and were trying desperately to keep their eyes open.

“Oh look,” Edward said dryly. “You found them.”

The demon climbed over the snowmobile and sat down.

“Why don’t you buzz off?” I said. My first priority was to get them warm, not banter with a demon. “Or better yet, stay splattered for once.”

“That was quite the explosion you caused,” Edward said. “Ingenious. I was caught completely by surprise. But, fortunately, you can’t keep a good demon down for long.”

“And why should I care?” I said as I stripped off my shirt. It wasn’t much, but I flung it around Katelyn’s shoulders and she relaxed slightly. What I needed was a shot of Bloodfire to get her temperature up, but I had nothing. Not even my pair of empty six shooters since Dorkface had ripped off my gun belt in our struggle.

“Because you need me,” Dorkface said.

“I don’t get why you keep on saying that,” I said. “In all my time in Junior Angel Corps, I have never needed anything from a demon.”

“Really? Never?” Dorkface said. “How about right now?”

“Again, don’t need your help,” I said as I sat down next to Katelyn and put my arm around her.

“So, the fact that your glorious explosion at Muddy Gap High knocked out the power to the entire town doesn’t concern you. Or that because the power is out, the town officials are spread too thin to really worry about two Mortals lost in the hills?” Edward said. He smiled down at me, twiddling his thumbs.

My brain cranked hard. If he was telling the truth, then I had scant time to mess around with getting her warm. I had to get her back to Muddy Gap.

“I was just visiting the Cody’s and it looks as if they have no leads on where their daughter went. This snowstorm covered their tracks,” Edward said. “Makes the chase a little more exciting, not knowing where to look in the first place. Don’t you think?”

“I think you’re full of sulfur,” I said. I scoured my pockets again, looking for anything that might help. Again, I came up empty. I needed an arsenal of ammunition at this point: a shell to pop off Edward, Bloodfire for my Mortals and a flare. All I had was lint.

“Oh, and just so you know, they won’t start the search until dawn when the storm clears off,” Edward said. “She’ll be dead by then. Eavesdropping is such a riot.”

“She still has five hours,” I said. “I have time.”

“Are you sure about that?” Edward said. “I mean, like absolutely dead sure your friend Stan didn’t already come by and pop her in the chest?”

“He wouldn’t. He can’t!”

“Would you bet your wings on that?”

“I—” The truth was that I wouldn’t. Stan was impatient as well as trigger-happy and taking down a Mortal early because he didn’t want to wait around was his thing. I lunged for Katelyn and tore open the front of her coat. There, just under her collarbone and dead center in her chest was a frosted hole and the butt end of an Icer; the A.O.D.’s version of hypothermia.

“You might want to check the boy too,” Edward said. “Just in case you need him later on.”

I didn’t want to take orders from a demon, but I checked anyway. Greg had an identical hole, same placement and everything. If it weren’t my wings and two Mortals lives on the line, I would have marveled at the skill required for such accuracy.

“Dang it!”

“That’s the best cussing you’ve got?” Edward snickered. “Your Mortals are dying, thanks to your buddy Stan, and all you can say is ‘dang it’? You angels have no fun at all. I could teach you a few new words I picked up. For example—”

“Enough! I don’t want to know any swear words,” I spat at him as I kneeled down in front of Katelyn and Greg. I wracked my brain. Hypothermia. The best way to fight it was to stay warm. Duh. I already knew that. The other way was to…

“Too bad you can’t wake them,” Edward said as he lazily blew sulfuric smoke curls off the ends of his fingers.

“I was getting to that,” I said.

“Sure you were.”

I leaned forward and patted her cheeks. Her skin was pasty and ice cold to the touch and she didn’t respond. Her eyes were half open, which for a moment I thought was a good thing, but ice crystals had formed on the ends of her eyelashes and forced her eyes to hitch slightly open.

“Come on,” I urged. “Wake up.”

“She won’t,” Edward said. “Want to know why?”

“I’d like to know why you won’t shut up,” I said. I tried rubbing her hands and brushing away the snow off her parka, but nothing worked.

“Because she already has been shot,” Edward said, plunging forward with the conversation. “Right now, the only thing that will save her is if she fights for the will to live. Funny how that works. Hypothermia can go either way, even after being Iced by an A.O.D.”

“Duh,” I said. “That’s why I’m still here.”

“Yes, but you’re doing such a horrible job at it, I find it fascinating to watch,” he mused. “Mind if I stick around to see you really fail?”

“Be my guest,” I muttered. I rubbed my hands together to gather heat from friction. I held my warm palms to her face and pressed hard. Her frosted skin warmed to a light shade of pink until I removed my hands and it went white again. I shook her shoulders and tweaked her ears, but nothing phased her. I even took Duffy’s advice and shoved my finger up her nose. Nothing worked.

“Wake up!” I shouted at them. “You’re young. You have so much living to do.”

“That’s the ticket,” Edward said mockingly. “Give them a pep talk on the excitement of going back to school and trudging through life. Death is so much better.”

“Buzz off,” I barked at him. I leaned forward close to both Mortals. “Listen to me. You can do this. You can wake up. Dying as a teenager sucks. Trust me, I should know. I died at fifteen and I’ve been flipping stuck at fifteen for fifty years!”

“Ooh, back story,” Edward said as he cupped his hands under his chin. “I love those. I’m betting yours was a tragedy.”

“If I had a gun right now…”

“You’d shoot my head off,” Edward said. “You are so predictable, it’s boring. Besides, you’re wasting time. They’re almost dead.”

He was right. Their breathing had slowed and Greg’s eyes drooped shut.

“You know, Mortals are funny,” Edward said as he lounged on the snowmobile. “Billions of angels and demons constantly swarming around them and they won’t take notice of half of them. Even when we are right under their noses.”

I knew the stories. Guardian Angels could be seen out of the corners of Mortal’s eyes and at the point halfway between sleep and awake. All it took was allowing the brain to lower its guard and we could be seen. Mortals went to a lot of effort to not look.

“But the real stinger is that they can hear us. Only on select few occasions, mind you. They have to want to hear us, which is terribly frustrating. And there is one other time, even if they don’t want to listen at all…”

Edward turned to me with demonic grin, waiting for me to finish his sentence. I knew what he was getting at. I’d never had to talk a Mortal out of dying before, but Guardians were allowed to, in special cases.

“She’ll hear me right before death,” I said. “Why do you think I’ve been yelling at her?”

“Because you’re missing one key part,” Edward said.

I rubbed wearily at my forehead. I knew the key to speaking to Mortals and it was the bane of my existence.

“I have to—,”

“—call her by name,” Edward squealed excitedly. “It’s so perfect, I could die a second time!”

“Why do you care?” I said. “You’re a demon.”

“No, I am Edward the Deliverer, Gideon, and lets face it, you need me. I can make your anomia aphasia completely disappear. You’ll call her by name, pull her out of hypothermia and viola! Your problems at Junior Angel Corps are over.”

“All I have to do is lose hope and hand over a Mortal. In your dreams, Dorkface,” I said.

“Then prove me wrong. Call your Mortal by name.”

I turned back to the two Mortals. My heart was thumping in my ears. I knew I had only moments to figure it out and my brain blanked. It always blanked when I was stressed.

Wyoming. Cowboy, no… famous cowboy and prairie cattle. That wasn’t it. I wanted to pull my hair out. This wasn’t fair! Why did I have to be the one with the trippy brain? My Mortal was going to die and my eternity hinged on one stinking name.

“Buffalo,” I muttered.

Edward snerked. “Nope.”

“Buffalo Bill. Um…”

“Isn’t your Mortal a female?” Edward giggled gleefully.

“Bill Cody,” I said snapping my fingers. “That’s it! Cody.”

Edward laughed out loud. “Not even close!”

“It’s halfway there,” I said. “Her last name is Cody.”

“And yet…” Edward gestured to my Mortal who was falling deeper asleep. “She continues to die. Last names aren’t going to hack it, Gideon. Give in. Lose hope. I can help you. All you need to do is ask.”

“No! I’ve got this. I know her name. She wrote it out on her notebook a million times,” I said, racking my brain. “Kelsey. Karin. It’s a K name, I know it.”

“You’re running out of time,” Edward sang. “Just give up. I’ll even take the boy instead of the girl if you want. He has a boatload of issues he’s been dealing with. His despair will be…delicious.”

“K. It has got to start with a K. Kathy? Katie?”

“Listen to me, Gideon,” Edward said, his voice lisping enticingly. “With one name you can move up to Angel Corps. First class wings and bigger assignments. The Boss will be so proud.”

“Katie,” I mused. That sounded so close… almost familiar. “Katie Cody? No, that’s not right.”

“Just give the Mortal boy to me. Let go of your frustrations and together we can save the girl. I know her name, Gideon. Ask me her name.”

I almost asked. It was so tempting to just ask, but I bit the words back. Darkness was lifting and dawn had finally arrived. The snowstorm slowed to a light dusting as Edwards offer crept into my mind and heart.

The words formed on my lips because, lets face it, I was looking at eternal puberty here. It was easier to just… ask.

I shook myself.

“No! By The Boss, I will not ask,” I screamed out in frustration and leapt to my feet. “I’d rather be a janitor for the Junior Corps for eternity than make a deal with you.”

My decision was final. I knew it because the blinding light of mental illumination straight from The Boss Himself was internally blinding. I knew her name. Thank The Boss, I knew her name!

“Katelyn! Take that, Dorkface!” I hollered triumphantly. I dropped to my knees in front of Katelyn and grabbed her by the shoulders. “Katelyn, listen to me. You’ve got to wake up. I know you want to sleep, but don’t do it. Wake up!”

“Muph?” Katelyn’s voice cracked from the cold.

I grabbed Greg by the front of his coat and shoved him closer to her. I knew his name too. I looked at him and it just came to me.

“You too, Greg. Wake up. Keep moving. It’s morning now and people are looking for you. Come on, Greg. MOVE!”

I was yelling at them now. Greg was the first to respond. He blinked slowly and then after a minute he jolted awake.

“Katelyn!” Greg shook Katelyn harder than I had and her eyes slowly fluttered open.

“What happened?” she murmured through blue lips.

“We fell asleep,” he said and she gasped. Finally her eyes opened wide and she took deep reviving breaths. Greg struggled to his feet. Quickly, I checked Katelyn’s chest. The hole was gone and the Icer had melted into a few sparkling drops of moisture. She was out of danger.

“Thank The Boss,” I said fervently.

Edward’s screams of anger were deafening. Katelyn and Greg were alive enough that they didn’t hear his ranting, but I got an earful off it.

“I could have given you the world and you have no right to throw it aside,” he bellowed. “I am Edward…”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said pulling my shirt back on over my head. “You’re the supreme Dorkface. I get it. Shut up.”

Edward’s head erupted in demonfire flames. A tricky feat, come to think of it.

“How dare you laugh in the face of my greatness?” He lunged for me and ploughed me into the snow, pounding his fists into my face. His demonic shrieks filled my ears as he tore at my flesh.

His fingers lit with demonfire and singed my skin. I tried to fight him off, but he clamped onto my back and dug his claw-like hands into my shoulders. The sulfuric acid stung so bad I screamed. I couldn’t get him off of me and it felt as if he was trying to burn me one piece at a time.

I threw myself down into the snow and tried to scrape him off, but the demon had a death hold on my back. I didn’t compute the flash of light and arrival of a new being in my desperation to get him off.

“Cool it, demon,” Stan said in his rolling Southern accent. “Unhand the angel or I’ll blast you to smithereens.”

“Stan!” I was so happy to see another angel, I didn’t care that he’d gone all trigger-happy on my Mortal.

“Dude! You remembered my name,” he said, flabbergasted.

“Celebrate later,” I said. “Shoot him!”

Edward paused in his hateful destruction of my body, but he didn’t let go. “Go ahead and shoot me,” he taunted. “I’ll only grow back and when I do, I’ll bring the hordes of Hell with me to Muddy Gap.”

“Well, then we’ll just have to keep on obliterating you,” Stan said. He pulled out his massive .50 caliber Smith and Wesson and aimed for Edward’s head. He was so close, I could see straight down the smoking barrel.

“Wait!” I said. I don’t know what got into me, but this new release of my brain from its hold on dysfunction made ideas flow in like crazy. “Don’t shoot him.”

“Say what?” Stan said, legitimately confused.

“Ditto on that,” Edward said.

I didn’t want to say outright that Stan had a Banisher, but I had to give him a hint. It was the only way to get rid of Edward for a good long time. After all, if angels could fall and be chained in Hell, why couldn’t a demon?

“Show the demon mercy,” I said.

“Um, no,” Stan said, not pausing to think about it.

“Shoot me instead,” I said.

“No way!” Stan balked.

“Stan!” I barked. “Shoot me! I know you don’t want to. In fact, I know that this is the only time you’ve not wanted to pull the trigger, but this time, you must.”

“Yes, Stanley,” Edward taunted. “Shoot your friend. I’ll enjoy it even more when I rip you both to shreds and take over Muddy Gap.”

Stan’s face turned a ruddy red. “Don’t. Call. Me. Stanley!”

“Listen to me,” I said. “Edward is right. He’ll just come back, over and over again. I think it’s time we changed that.”

I looked very pointedly at Stan. I’d heard that the A.O.D. were jarheads, all brawn and little brains, but I couldn’t think about that now. He had to figure it out.

“Mercy,” Edward snickered. “Come to Hell with me and I’ll teach you a perfect lesson about mercy.”

As Edward laughed uproariously, the train boarded the station in Stan’s brain. Shaking his head he popped the anti-demon shell out of his thick barrel and slapped in a soul sucking black one. Edward was laughing mockingly at me so loud, he didn’t notice the exchange.

“Oh, this is good,” Edward crowed. “I’ll be ripping both of you to shreds so thoroughly, you won’t be able to put yourselves back together for centuries. I will empty the pits of Hell and I will reign as King over all of you!”

“Stan,” I said evenly. I placed my hand on the barrel of his huge gun and gently rested it on my chest just to the left of my heart. I had to miss mine to hit Edward’s. That was the only way a Banisher would work. Unfortunately, it had to pass through me for a clean shot. “Pull the trigger.”

“I can’t,” Stan whimpered. “You don’t deserve this. The bullet will tear straight thro… oh.” The light of dawn reflected in his eyes as he finally got it. It was about darn time!

Edward clung to me, laughing. He wouldn’t have a clue what hit him until it was too late.

Stan nodded grimly, turned away his head, and pulled the trigger.

In fifty years of working for the Junior Angel Corps I thought I had been through it all. I’d been hit with demonfire (burns like acid), torn apart (equally unpleasant) and beat up. I’d never been shot with a whopping .50 caliber handgun and after my first experience with it, I think I would rather be beat up, shredded and fried with demonfire, all at the same time. Saying it hurt was an understatement.

The Banisher ripped though me, front to back, and embedded into Edward’s chest. The demon sucked in a deep rattling gasp of air. He released me and shoved me forward. His face registered shock as he clawed at the front of his shirt to get at the shell.

“No. Not again,” he cursed. “I will not be sent back to Hell.”

“Too bad,” Stan said. He blew the smoke off the end of his gun. “’Cause that’s exactly where you’re headed.”

Edward shrieked in agony as his fingers clutched at the gaping hole.

“Mark my words, Gideon, I will come for you. I will spend my hundred years in Hell, but I don’t care if I stay there for a thousand years. I will never give up hunting you.”

“Til we meet again, Dorkface,” I said, saluting him goodbye.

Edward really put the drama into being banished. He did the full shimmy, shake and war cry before he imploded and shot downward into a black depthless crater. Then it was over. The mouth of the crater closed and Edward was gone. Easy as that.

“Oh man,” I groaned. My chest hurt and I clutched at it, hoping that somehow I could put myself back together in a hurry because the pain was excruciating. “I’m glad it worked, but…ow.”

I dropped to my knees as the earth began to pitch and swirl.

“Hang in there, Gideon,” Stan said. He whipped out his phone and speed dialed. “Help is coming.”

I rolled into a ball. This was unlike anything I had experienced before. The Banisher, even with its spilt second entrance and exit through my body, traced a path of fire. Everything it touched was tainted. I couldn’t be free from it. For once in my life I sincerely felt bad for the demons. They burned constantly, from the inside out and there was no escape. It was a low steady burn and it was sheer agony to the point that I could feel hope being sucked slowly and steadily out of my body.

The snow stopped falling now. The clouds parted and let the morning sun through in bright bursts, or that could have just been the arrival of more angels. Phil and Duffy were busy keeping Katelyn and Greg moving and Min set off a flare for the rescue party. My girl Katelyn would be found in no time.

Anna shoved Stan out of the way and knelt over me.

“You made it, Gideon,” she said. “You saved Katelyn.”

Yeah. I was proud of it too. Only, I couldn’t celebrate for the fire smoldering in my chest. It spread like oil, creeping into my heart and lungs.

“Stay with me,” Anna urged. “Stay awake.”

Now that was funny coming from a narcoleptic. I tried to laugh, but it hurt too much. “S-shouldn’t you be napping?” I stammered. “The worst… is over.”

“I’m not tired.”

I had a great snarky quip for that one, but it was lost when the oily burn spread around my heart and began to slowly eat at it. I tried to bite back a howl of pain.

“What’s happening to him?” I heard Anna say as if she were speaking through a long tunnel.

“He’s turning into a demon,” Stan said. “I shot him with a Banisher.”

“What is wrong with you?” Anna shrieked. “Why would you do something like that?”

“What?” Stan shrugged. “He wanted me to do it. It was the only way we could get rid of Edward.”

“So you went ahead and blasted him? Holy wings in Heaven, I am surrounded by idiots!”

“Not quite,” said a strong, steady voice. “Any angel willing to sacrifice himself for his friends and for the well-being of Mortals is smarter than you think.”

I pried one eye open to see The Boss leaning over me, wearing medical scrubs and his eyes swirling disco crazy in shifting colors.

“What do you think, Boss?” Stan said. “Does he have a chance?”

The Boss smiled, a real feat considering his face was a triple combination of Scot, Kenyan and Chilean.

“Everybody has a chance, Stanly,” he said. I saw his hand reach out for me and thankfully everything went black as the pain slipped away with my consciousness.

When I woke up, I felt great. Not, ‘golly, I’m just happy to be alive’ kind of great, but the full on ‘I had never felt more healthy in my entire mortal and immortal existence’ kind of great. I opened my eyes and stared at the white tiles of an infirmary ceiling and reveled in just breathing. The oily burn was gone.

Slowly I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed. Not that I didn’t want to lay there a little longer. Beds in heaven were…heavenly. No lumps, perfect back support and just soft enough to ensure maximum comfort. I could have lain there all day, but I got up anyway. It was time to get back to work.

I was stationed in a deserted recovery wing and with one nurse angel at the far end of the long row of beds folding sheets. On the nightstand next to the bed was a pile of what looked like my clothes and some gear. I dressed quickly, buttoning up my clean and demonfire free shirt, putting on my pants and stuffing my feet into my boots. I turned to arm myself and got a surprise.

There, carefully laid out, was a fully loaded ammunition belt, high polished, pearl handled pistols with my name engraved on the barrel and matching holsters. I picked up the pistols, turning them in my hands in the light to get the full effect of their beauty.

“Wow,” I said in awe. I’d never seen anything so perfectly turned or metal so polished it looked like a steel mirror. I slapped on the ammo belt and buckled the pistols around my waist. Leaning against the bed was a brand spanking new shotgun, semi-automatic by the look of it and the weight of it was perfectly balanced in my hands. I did a quick look down the sights and, no surprise, they were aligned down to a hair’s accuracy. Somebody went to a lot of trouble to get me the best set of weapons fit to my specifications personally.

“Thanks, Boss,” I muttered. It wasn’t much, but I knew He’d hear it.

I dropped the shotgun into the holster strapped to my back. I was almost dressed and ready for action. All I needed was my wings.

That’s when I saw them.

My old wings were a burnished bronze pin, dinged up a bit on the edges and had only one stripe striking diagonally through two eagle wings. It was a battered secondhand set, but they were mine and I was proud of them. The wings sitting on the nightstand were solid gold.

I picked them up to get a closer look. The wings were aerodynamic down to the minute detail on the feathers and through the center were two bold stripes. They couldn’t be mine. I turned the shiny gold pin over and on the back, engraved in curly bold script was one word: Gideon.

Okay, so they were mine. I pinned the new set of wings on my shirt over my left breast pocket, then I polished off my finger prints with the sleeve of my shirt. The gold gleamed in the sunlight streaming through the window.

“First class wings,” Anna said. “They look good on you.”

I spun around, completely unaware that I was being watched.

Anna smiled. She stood at the foot of my hospital bed and behind her were Duffy, Phil and Min. They looked the same, and yet totally different. Duffy was cleaned up; gym shorts and cowboy boots got traded in for a school cop uniform and two new glocks. Phil finally found clothes that were long enough to fit his impossibly gangly legs and cover his gut and he fashioned a new ammunition belt that carried his bazooka strapped to his back. Min was still in his usual crisp button up shirt and jeans, but he added a sleek modern Sig Saur to his twin blades. Anna… well, Anna was awake, which was amazing. Weirdly enough she traded out her all black outfit for a white shirt, ammo vest and an artfully ripped denim skirt. She kept the black combat boots, though. Hot? Very.

The best part was that they all sported solid gold wings, just like mine.

“Happy birthday, Gideon,” Anna said. She threw her arms around my neck for a brief hug and moved aside for Duffy and Phil to thump me heartily in the arm.

“Birthday?”

“Yeah, dude,” Duffy said. “You are fifteen and three days old.”

I aged. Nice!

“We wanted to celebrate earlier, but you were knocked out for a few days,” Phil said. “So, yay. We’re finally growing up.”

Min pushed Phil aside and glared at him. Then he bowed to me.

“Ji do Jah,” he said. He straightened and was all business. “The English translation is ‘Leader’, Gideon, and technically you will only age until your prime at twenty five. Until then, Anna feels that you deserve a celebration for every year. This is unnecessary, but I assume it is because she has properly gotten over Stan and transferred her feminine emotions to you.”

My jaw swung downward and practically came unhinged from my skull.

“I did not have feminine feelings for Stan,” Anna sputtered. Her pale cheeks erupted in spots of pink.

Duffy emitted a loud snore and mimicked Anna as she slept. “Oh Stan,” he said in a high falsetto. “You’re such a hunk.”

Phil tried to stifle a laugh and Anna punched him hard in the chest. Regardless, I was still in shock.

“Min, your English… it’s…”

“Exact? Precise? Impeccable?” Min offered.

“Yeah, that.”

“It should be after two hundred years of study. Do you know how incredibly frustrating it is to be assigned to an English speaking area when all I could understand was Korean?” Min said.

“Super frustrating,” I said.

“That was my conclusion as well. It took me ten years to master grammar and another five to speak it.”

“But all you said was ‘chop’,” I said.

“Because that was all that was required of me. You believed in me, Gideon. You helped me understand English, not just speak it,” Min said. “Well, for the most part. I still don’t fully understand all uses of sarcasm.”

“We’ll help you with that, Min,” Duffy said. “I happen to be a professional at snark.”

“How about we go back home to Muddy Gap before Duffy’s head swells and we can’t get out the door,” Anna suggested. She paused for a moment as the others made their way to the exit at the end of the long recovery room. “That is, if you want to. The Boss has a list of assignments for you. He gave them to me to give to you when you woke up.”

Anna pulled out a swanky new phone and handed it to me. It was the absolute latest in angel tech. I took it from her and pressed my thumb to the screen.

“Hello, Gideon,” the phone said. “You have twenty-one new messages. Would you like me to read them out loud to you?”

Sweet!

“No, thanks,” I said to the phone. “I’ll read them later.”

Anna’s smile faltered. “It looks like you’re going to be busy. Just how you like it.”

“Wait, aren’t you coming with me?” I said. “We’re first class now. We can go anywhere.”

“Not this time, Gideon. The guys and I volunteered to stay at Muddy Gap High in case Edward the Dorkface escapes from Hell early.” Anna couldn’t look me in the eyes anymore and ended up talking to my Adam’s Apple. “Besides, I don’t think leaving Duffy to his own devices would be wise. He did obliterate the entire school, after all.”

“You’re probably right,” I said. I swiped my phone on and flipped through my messages. None of my new assignments were close to Muddy Gap, Wyoming except one. I still had Katelyn and now, Greg too. Anna gulped hard and turned to leave as I dialed Transportation.

“Transportation,” said a familiar chipper female voice.

“Sup?”

“Gideon! You’re awake. Are you ready to kick some Angel Corps butt? The Boss has a pile of work for you, where do you want to begin?”

“Muddy Gap,” I said.

Anna spun back around with a hopeful grin.

The Transportation Operator coughed back a laugh. “You can’t be serious,” she said. “The Boss left instructions that if you go back, you stay for good. Are you sure you want to do that?”

“Can you hold for a second?” I held the phone to my chest and looked to Anna. “After we head back to Wyoming, I have to make a quick trip to New York. You game to come with me?”

“Sure.”

I put the phone back up to my ear. “Muddy Gap it is,” I said to the operator. She gave me quick instructions to catch the next light and I hung up. As we headed out of the infirmary, Anna slipped her hand into mine.

“Just for the record, there was nothing going on with Stan,” she said.

“Really? Because your dream-self had the hots for him pretty bad.”

“He slobbered wet-lipped kisses on my hand. That’s hardly romantic. How would you know about my ‘dream-self’ anyway? I don’t talk in my sleep.”

“Not only do you talk in your sleep, you snore. Like, really loud.”

Anna’s cheeks went from pink to bright red as we stepped into the brilliant sunlight and disappeared, her indignant reply lost in the speed of travel.

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