Chapter One: Equilibrium Challenged

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            Slipping in a puddle under the broken water fountain in the science hallway should teach me to stop gawking at Jenna Macintyre, but I know it won’t. I fell for her when we were ten, and in the six years since, I’ve continued to fall. And stutter. And generally speaking make an ass out of myself.

            “Good one, Zachy,” she says, leaning down so that her golden hair swings in my face. She flicks my shoulder, sending shivers down all my nerve-endings, straightens up, and heads off toward whatever her next class is. If I had any guts at all I’d call her on all the humiliating things she’s ever said to me. But I don’t. Instead I wonder if she moves that way on purpose.

Her gaggle of wannabes follow in her wake, blocking the view. Their laughter bounces back down the hall even after the door closes behind them.

            It’s only after the final bell rings that I realize I should probably breathe if I want to avoid passing out and drowning in an inch of water. So I shake myself and stand up, leaning on Emmet. I almost forgot he was there. I groan when I feel the heavy, cold material of my soaked jeans clinging to my legs. Nice.

“Loitering now I see, Mr. Slade.” My sixth period Physics teacher’s voice nearly makes me slip again.

            “But-” I start.

            “Save it for someone who cares. Get to your next class or I’ll be happy to serve you a detention.” Mr. Crown slides his bottleneck glasses up on the bridge of his nose, and curls one thin lip with distaste.

“I had an accident,” I say in a rush.

He raises his eyebrows, taking in my pants, and I feel the heat flood my face.

“Not that kind of accident. I slipped in the hall because of the broken fountain.” I ought to threaten to sue.

“That’s what happens when you run in the hallways.”

Is he serious? I draw my hands down over my face, trying to collect myself. I don’t need another detention. Mom always said to turn on the charm in situations like this. Why not?

“Looking good today, Mr. Crown. Is that a new bowtie?”

“Don’t you try that on me, Slade,” he says stepping in my personal space.

“Fine. I’m going.” I say, backing up and slinging my backpack over my shoulder. That’s what I get for trying to make nice.

“And watch that attitude.” He slams the door to his room, and I flip him off before turning back to Emmet, the only other person left in the now deserted hall.

“Take good notes,” I say. “I’m out of here.”

“Thank God,” Emmet says. “I thought you were going to actually go to class like that for a minute.”

“I think I’ve suffered enough public humiliation for one day.” I shake out my leg and watch the drops of water splatter across the linoleum. Before Emmet can respond, a sudden burst of pain slices down my back. I collapse to my knees certain my spine just splintered into a thousand pieces. I scream, arching my body in agony.

“What happened?” Emmet’s at my side in a heartbeat.

            The pain disappears as fast as it hit. I reach out and haul myself back to my feet using Emmet’s arm for support. “I don’t know what that was, but it hurt like hell.” I fumble for my cell.

            “What are you doing?” Emmet asks. “Are you calling 911?”

            That’s not the number my finger hovers over. I hesitate then press send. A minute later, I stuff the phone back in my pocket and shake my head.

            “Well?” Emmet asks.

            “My mom’s voicemail picked up,” I admit. I don’t have to look at him to know he’s rolling his eyes. “I had to check okay? I had a… a weird feeling.”

            “Mama’s boy.”

            “Emmet-”

            “Seriously, Zach. Are you sixteen or are you six? It isn’t normal to call Mommy just because you have a booboo. You’re lucky it’s just me. If Ice Queen Jenna was still here, you’d be ruined.”

            “What’s the difference?” I ask, heading toward the door. “She already thinks I’m pathetic.”

“You need to get past this Jenna thing,” Emmet says, keeping pace.

            “Saying it doesn’t make it any easier. I can’t help how I feel,” I say, and I kick the door open.

            “Too bad you aren’t gay,” Emmet says. “That would solve both our problems.”

            “I’m not your type.”

            He shoves me in the shoulder and I stumble a little. “No, you’re not. You still haven’t cut loose the umbilical cord. I need someone tall, dark, and dangerous.”

            “Yeah, well, if I meet him, I’ll be sure and send him your way.” I give him a less than enthusiastic fist bump and bound down the steps past the larger than life sign. Irvine High, California distinguished school. Yeah right.

It’s another beautiful day. The sun is shining, the sky is blue with little white puffy clouds, and the birds are singing. Seriously, couldn’t it be raining for once? It’s like nature doesn’t have the good sense to know what a sucky day this has been. I mean, if it were raining, I would blend in, and the woman jogging her stroller down the street wouldn’t be glaring at me like I was a mental case who just peed his pants.

At least it’s just a ten-minute walk home. I plug in my earbuds and start singing along. It always makes me feel better. I might even arrive home in a good mood.

No such luck. I quit singing and glare right back at the kid who stops to gawk on his scooter as I make my way up the front walkway to my house. His mouth hangs so far open I expect drool to come sliding out. Shouldn’t he be in school anyhow?

“I’m home!” I announce, throwing open the door.

No answer. I fight off the memory of that feeling I had about my mom earlier and try to convince myself that something is finally going my way. Mom isn’t home, so she won’t know I’m skipping. Or why. No reason to worry. Being a “life consultant” to the rich and famous means she works all kinds of crazy hours and keeps all sorts of hush-hush secrets. I run up to my room, throw my bag down, and peel off my pants with a sigh.

I’m standing in my boxers, one foot balanced precariously over my fresh pant leg, when the woman clears her throat from my doorway.

“Shit!” I yell as I topple over, banging my head on the still open dresser drawer. In my defense, it hurts like hell. Plus, strange lady in my house.

“Zacharias Slade, watch your mouth.”

I gape up at her, as she folds her thin arms across her chest. I can’t help but think of a spindly tree with long withered branches. She has smooth brown skin, slit-like dark eyes, and a ton of silver hair piled up on top of her head. And when I say silver, I mean silver. Like shiny, metallic silver.

“Um,” I say, my voice an octave higher than normal. “Who the f- um, who are you? And what are you doing in my house?”

“Your mother sent me.”

I’m already having trouble wrapping my brain around her strange appearance when she turns around to shut the door. I clamp my mouth shut so I don’t scream out any more obscenities because what I’m seeing can’t possibly be real.

She has wings. Clear, curvy, fluttery wings poking through her shirt.

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