Traveling alone to pick up Henry provided time to think. The new truck was too quiet. I could hear the blood racing in my veins. My face looked the same, and my voice sounded the same, but my skin looked too smooth, and my eyes looked too bright. The strength in my hands, my sense of balance, my reflexes and my spatial awareness were more acute.
I had to laugh. Each song that played on the radio was new to me. The highway appeared unchanged, but the businesses and landmarks I expected to see along the way looked new—different. The fickle, linear world I fought so hard to fit inside of was leaving me behind.
Time marched forward, oblivious to the blood-soaked thread my life added to the grand tapestry. Early morning, the small parking lot at the edge of the preserve was empty. Enough light filled the air to highlight the morning dew steaming off the surfaces.
Henry’s voice filled my mind as I walked off the hard-packed trail and into the thick, wet, green tree line.
“There you are. I was beginning to wonder if you forgot about me.” His tone was light and brought an easy smile to my face.
My favorite jeans hung loosely off my hips. Walking the uneven ground and pulling them up while my hands were full of supplies was more than my limited coordination could handle. A few bottles of water slipped from my arms and fell to the dirt.
I closed my eyes and tossed my head back, letting the first fires of daylight dance across my eyelids. A heartbeat broke my attempt at a micro meditation. The thumping pulse was followed by the smell of warm, sterilized skin. Henry was near and probably watching me make a fool of myself.
“I can hear your heartbeat, sexy. You know you can’t hide from me, right? I can even smell your skin.”
“That’s because you’re cheating.” Henry strolled out of the dense wall of lush green foliage, wearing only a pair of light blue jeans. His wings brushing aside flimsy, new-growth, tree limbs. His bare chest glistened with a layer of golden angelic dust.
“Storage material?” I asked, running my finger down his chest, collecting a sample of the dust between my fingertips. “Angelic stripper supplies?”
Henry smiled and shook his head. "Something like that."
I felt his hands skim my waist as he lightly kissed my lips. I closed my eyes and clumsily traced his jawline. This was the body I remember in my dreams.
My heart sank as I contemplated the next few days with Henry. I was happy to have him with me like this, but our time together this trip wouldn’t last nearly long enough.
All at once, Henry yanked at my belt loops and pulled me to him.
“Hey, hey. Don’t rip them. I need a smaller pair of pants.” I confessed, tugging on my pockets.
“Or a bigger ass to fill out this pair. Aren’t you eating?” Henry pinched my arms and held my face up to the sunshine, studying my eyes and skin like I was a horse at market.
“I eat demons, and they are in short supply.” I laughed, smashing a fallen pine cone into the soft ground with my shoe. “Pax is leaving—soon.”
Henry pushed my hand up to the sky with his and wiggled my arm around like a marionette doll.
“We know it’s leaving. We just don’t know why it’s choosing to leave now.” Henry’s expression turned serious. I wasn’t prepared for his human eyes. His gaze pierced through me, looking for answers I didn’t have. An anxious pain rolled in my chest, knowing what the sunlight would do to him soon.
I swallowed down my weakness. “Pax seemed unhappy about the move. Honestly, he seemed annoyed, like he was unjustly punished. He was aloof and odd when we spoke. More odd than usual, I mean.”
“Interesting. May I see your memory of the conversation?”
“Sure.” I was surprised Henry asked to peek inside my soul. His hand slid behind my neck. Peace washed over my mind as warmth radiated through my body. I let my head relax in his hand as I held onto his wrist for balance.
Anything from me felt like it was his for the taking. I didn’t expect privacy from Henry or even want that level of separation. Henry witnessed every high and low I was capable of creating for millennia. Hiding my thoughts from him seemed pointless.
“Hm, well, Pax was in pain. It’s there in the eyes. The host was gone. Pax was in total control of his human vessel and beyond annoyed with you.”
“I was inside the Grove. I didn’t know Pax was sending me tokens of his remorse. I think he got it in his head that I would forget he used me like a rooster in a cockfight with enough gifts. What I don’t understand is why. He’s usually so flatly unapologetic.”
“I don’t know. This behavior is learned, forced. It’s not common for a demon of that pedigree to care about anything but its goals. Don’t waste time considering why. Look beyond the demons to your life—to your goals.”
The warmth of the sunshine above hit my forehead. “Shit! Here comes the sun.”
Henry smiled and walked forward into a narrow clearing. Hands raised to the sky, he recited a prayer with the cadence of a long, memorized list. Each word was separated from the next and weighted by his deep, dusky voice.
Like spotlights on a stage floor, the sun marked us both. Henry’s wings disintegrated with a whisper of flame and a gush of cool wind. He brought his hands down to his face and brushed them over his eyes. Once the sun was done taking his wings, Henry held his hands out to me.
“Are you okay,” I asked. My voice cracked, giving away the pity I was trying to hide from him.
“Of course. This burning man routine is getting a bit dull, really.” Henry slid his arm along mine and found my neck. He kissed me hard but pulled away suddenly, taking a deep exaggerated breath. “I take anything but your tears, sweetheart. You know what it takes for me to walk freely in this realm.”
“Yes, but it’s not fair. You quite literally burn.”
The inequity of our situation was becoming clear to me. As a werewolf and an angel, fair was not something Henry or I could expect from life.
“It’s payment—suffering for the privilege of a short stay in the realm of men. It’s actually something I wanted to talk about.”
“Alright, I’m listening.” I pulled a soft cotton shirt out of my bag of supplies and put it in Henry’s hand. I helped him find the armholes and carefully pull the fabric over his freshly singed skin.
“My grandmother will be leaving this world soon. I want to propose marriage today after our lunch, so she knows I will be taken care of in her absence.”
Henry slid his hand down my arm and found my hand. His constant touch on my skin was irritating. I knew he needed to use me for balance, but I was touched out after only a few minutes. I took a moment to calm my mind and stop my initial reflex to brush his hands off me.
“I can see where that could bring her peace in her final moments. Who’s the lucky girl?”
“You, jack ass. Who else would I marry?” Henry laughed and smiled, but his hands gained a slight tremor as he held my arm for balance.
“I don’t know what you and your Angel buddies do when I’m not around. There must be bunnies that follow you around. Panting for your attention.”
“What like badge bunnies?” he scoffed.
“Yes, or fire bunnies. There could be wing wenches.”
“I can’t believe you are jealous.” Henry grabbed my shoulder clumsily and squeezed. I could tell he was trying hard to locate me. Acclimating to his lack of sight looked harder for him this time around.
“No. No, not jealous. I want you to be—happy.” My hand found his and slid into place by his elbow so I could guide him to the parking lot.
“Happy?” he snorted. “I plot the extinction of an entire species to save another, day in and day out. I’m too busy for fans.”
“Oh, of course, you’re a busy man.”
“I don’t have the time to keep coming out here and burning my wings off to visit my human family for a few hours.”
“No. You’re an all-business Angel now. A baller if I’ve ever seen one.”
“Whatever, you’re just mocking me now. I need to die so I can stop this nonsense.”
There was a silence that seemed to choke out the crisp morning wind. The truck was only a few feet away, but I dropped everything in my arms and slapped Henry across the face.
“After everything I’ve sacrificed, now you want to die.”
“You sacrificed?” Henry held his hand to his cheek. As his temper rose, so did the speed of his heartbeat. “Have you lost your mind, woman? The only reason you are alive at all is to...” Henry closed his mouth like a trap and stood up straight.
“Is to what? Angel,” I demanded.
“This is ridiculous, Al. Obviously, I trigged some deep opposition to marriage I was unaware you harbored.”
“Unaware I harbored? What about this fake marriage you’re proposing could possibly end your life?”
“Once my grandmother is gone, and a suitable amount of time has passed, I can die suddenly. A bombing, a plane crash, some tragedy will present itself, alleviating my need to keep coming out into the world and burning my wings off.”
I was holding my breath. I inhaled deeply and filled my empty lungs. “This is bullshit,” I coughed. “You can stick it out for fifty or sixty years. What about your brothers?”
“Yes, what about my brothers? The three who protect the realm of men or the two humans who live brief, inconsequential lives comparatively?” Henry pulled his arm away from me and rested both his hands on his waist.
“So I understand this correctly. Your angelic brothers are better than your human siblings?” I snarled.
“No, that’s not what I’m saying.”
“But that is what you’re saying. It’s what you are declaring by choosing to hide from your human family.”
“By continuing to hold on to my human life, I’m hiding from my duties. I have a purpose in the Yolk, a calling. I took an oath when the universe was new and full of possibilities. This charade needs to end. It’s just a distraction.”
“Am I a distraction too?”
“Yes. You, my friend, are a happy distraction with a mean streak.” Henry moved his jaw side to side and pulled on his chin.
The drive to my family’s farm was thankfully short. Henry explained his death by marriage scheme at length while pounding water after water. His human body looked healthy and well, but I could see the desperate need it felt for water and food.
His hand stayed on my arm or rested lightly on my thigh. Henry’s human body needed to touch me. Maybe death was more humane than letting this human costume sit alone in the White and want while Henry lived as an Angel.
My father greeted us at the bottom of the stairs. He made his special fruit-preserve waffles and sausage breakfast and spent the first half-hour catching Henry up on the volatile world markets and how soon he predicted the pending recession to harm everyone on the planet.
“Pesky humans,” I chortled.
Henry leaned into my ear. “Some are worth the hassle.”