Luce planned on keeping her eyes closed all six hours of the cross-country ight from Georgia out to California, right up until the moment when the wheels of the plane touched down in San Francisco. Half asleep, she found it so much easier to pretend she was already reunited with Daniel.
It felt like a lifetime since she'd seen him, though it had really only been a few days. Ever since they'd said goodbye at Sword & Cross on Friday morning, Luce's whole body had felt groggy. The absence of his voice, his warmth, the touch of his wings: it had sunk into her bones, like a strange illness.
An arm brushed against hers, and Luce opened her eyes. She was face to face with a wide-eyed, brown-haired guy a few years older than her.
"Sorry," they both said at the same time, each retreating a few inches on either side of the plane's armrest.
Out the window, the view was startling. The plane was making its descent into San Francisco, and Luce had never seen anything like it before. As they traced the south side of the bay, a winding blue tributary seemed to cut through the earth on its way to the sea. The stream pided a vibrant green eld on one side from a swirl of something bright red and white on the other. She pressed her forehead to the double plastic pane and tried to get a better view.
"What is that?" she wondered aloud.
"Salt," the guy answered, pointing. He leaned in closer. "They mine it out of the Paci c. "
The answer was so simple, so . . . human. Almost a surprise after the time she'd spent with Daniel and the other--she was still unpracticed at using the terms literally--angels and demons. She looked out across the midnight-blue water, which seemed to stretch forever west. Sun-over-water had always meant morning to Atlantic coast?raised Luce. But out here, it was almost night.
"You're not from around here, are you?" her seatmate asked.
Luce shook her head but held her tongue. She kept staring out the window. Before she'd left Georgia this morning, Mr. Cole had coached her about keeping a low pro le. The other teachers had been told that Luce's parents had requested a transfer. It was a lie. As far as Luce's parents, Callie, and anyone else knew, she was still enrolled at Sword & Cross.
A few weeks before, this would have infuriated her. But the things that had happened in those nal days at Sword & Cross had left Luce a person who took the world more seriously. She had glimpsed a snapshot of another life--one of so many she'd shared with Daniel before. She'd discovered a love more important to her than anything she'd ever thought possible. And then she'd seen all of that threatened by a crazy, dagger- wielding old woman whom she'd thought she could trust.
There were more out there like Miss Sophia, that Luce knew. But no one had told her how to recognize them. Miss Sophia had seemed normal, up until the end. Could the others look as innocent as . . . this brown-haired guy sitting next to her? Luce swallowed, folded her hands on her lap, and tried to think about Daniel.
Daniel was taking her someplace safe.
Luce pictured him waiting for her in one of those gray plastic airport chairs, elbows on knees, his blond head tucked between his shoulders. Rocking back and forth in his black Converse sneakers. Standing up every few minutes to pace around the baggage carousel.
There was a jolt as the plane touched down. Suddenly she was nervous. Would he be as happy to see her as she was to see him?
She focused on the brown and beige pattern on the cloth seat in front of her. Her neck felt sti from the long ight and her clothes had a stale, stu y airline smell. The navy-blue-suited ground crew outside the window seemed to be taking an abnormally long time to direct the plane to its Jetway. Her knees bobbed with impatience.
"I take it you're staying in California for a while?" The guy next to her o ered a lazy smile that only made Luce more anxious to get up.
"Why would you say that?" she asked quickly. "What would make you think that?"
He blinked. "With that huge red du el bag and all. "
Luce inched away from him. She hadn't even noticed this guy until two minutes ago when he'd jarred her awake. How did he know about her luggage?
"Hey, nothing creepy. " He shot her a strange look. "I was just standing behind you in line when you checked in. "
Luce smiled awkwardly. "I have a boyfriend" streamed from her mouth. Instantly, her cheeks reddened.
The guy coughed. "Got it. "
Luce grimaced. She didn't know why she'd said that. She didn't want to be rude, but the seat belt light went o and all she wanted to do was barrel past this guy and right o the plane. He must have had the same idea, because he edged backward in the aisle and swept his hand forward. As politely as she could, Luce pushed past and bounded toward the exit.
Only to get caught in a bottleneck of agonizing slowness on the Jetway. Silently cursing all the casual Californians shu ing in front of her, Luce stood on her toes and shifted from foot to foot. By the time she stepped into the terminal, she'd driven herself half insane with impatience.
Finally, she could move. She wove expertly through the crowd and forgot all about the guy she'd just met on the plane. She forgot to feel nervous that she'd never been to California in her life--never been further west than Branson, Missouri, that time when her parents dragged her to see Yakov Smirno doing standup. And for the rst time in days, she even brie y forgot the horrible things she'd seen at Sword & Cross. She was headed toward the only thing in the world that had the power to make her feel better. The only thing that could make her feel that all the anguish she'd been through--all the shadows, that unreal battle in the cemetery, and worst of all, the heartbreak of Penn's death--might be worth surviving.
There he was.
Sitting exactly as she'd imagined he would, on the last in a block of sad gray chairs, next to an automatic sliding door that kept opening and closing behind him. For a second, Luce stood still and just enjoyed the view. closing behind him. For a second, Luce stood still and just enjoyed the view.
Daniel was wearing ip- ops and dark jeans she'd never seen before, and a stretched-out red T-shirt that was ripped near the front pocket. He looked the same, yet somehow di erent. More rested than he had when they'd said goodbye the other day. And was it just that she'd missed him so much, or was his skin even more radiant than she remembered? He looked up and nally saw her. His smile practically gleamed.
She took o running toward him. Within a second, his arms were around her, her face buried in his chest, and Luce let out the longest, deepest breath. Her mouth found his and they sank into a kiss. She went slack and happy in his arms.
She hadn't realized it until now, but a part of her had wondered whether she'd ever see him again, whether the whole thing might have been a dream. The love she felt, the love that Daniel reciprocated, all still felt so surreal.
Still caught up in his kiss, Luce lightly pinched his bicep. Not a dream. For the rst time in she didn't even know how long, she felt like she was home.
"You're here," he whispered into her ear.
"You're here. "
"We're both here. "
They laughed, still kissing, eating up every bit of the sweet awkwardness at seeing each other again. But when Luce was least expecting it, her laugh turned into a sni e. She was looking for a way to say how hard the last few days had been for her--without him, without anyone, half asleep and groggily aware that everything had changed--but in Daniel's arms now, she failed to nd the words.
"I know," he said. "Let's get your bag and get out of here. "
Luce turned toward the baggage carousel and found her neighbor from the plane standing in front of her, the straps of her huge du el gripped in his hands. "I saw this go by," he said, a forced smile on his face, like he was hell-ben
Before Luce had time to answer, Daniel relieved the guy of the unwieldy bag, using only one hand. "Thanks, man. I'll take it from here," he said, decisively enough to end the conversation.
The guy watched as Daniel slid his other hand around Luce's waist and steered her away. This was the rst time since Sword & Cross that Luce had been able to see Daniel as the world did, her rst chance to wonder whether other people could tell, just by looking, that there was something extraordinary about him.
Then they were through the sliding glass doors and she took her rst real breath of the West Coast. The early-November air felt fresh and brisk and somehow healthy, not soggy and chilled like the Savannah air this afternoon when her plane had taken o . The sky was a brilliant bright blue, no clouds on the horizon. Everything looked new-minted and clean--even the parking lot held row after row of recently washed cars. A line of mountains framed it all, tawny brown with scraggly dots of green trees, one hill rolling into the next.
She was not in Georgia anymore.
"I can't decide whether to be surprised," Daniel teased. "I let you out from under my wing for two days and another guy swoops in. "
Luce rolled her eyes. "Come on. We barely spoke. Really, I slept the whole ight. " She nudged him. "Dreaming of you. "
Daniel's pursed lips turned into a smile and he gave the top of her head a kiss. She stood still, wanting more, not even realizing that Daniel had stopped in front of a car. And not just any car.
A black Alfa Romeo.
Luce's jaw dropped when Daniel unlocked the passenger door.
"Th-this . . . ," she stammered. "This is . . . did you know this is my absolute dream car?"
"More than that," Daniel laughed. "This used to be your car. "
He laughed when she practically jumped at his words. She was still getting used to the reincarnation part of their story. It was so unfair. A whole car she had no memory of. Whole lives she couldn't recall. She was desperate to know about them, almost like her former selves were siblings she'd been separated from at birth. She rested her hand on the windshield, searching for a wisp of something, for d?j? vu.
"It was a sweet sixteen present from your folks a couple of lifetimes ago. " Daniel looked sideways, like he was trying to decide how much to say. Like he knew she was hungry for the details but might not be able to swallow too many at once. "I just bought it o this guy in Reno. He bought it after you, uh . . . Well, after you . . . "
Spontaneously combusted, Luce thought, lling in the bitter truth that Daniel wouldn't speak. That was the one thing about her past lives: The ending rarely changed.
Except, it seemed, this time it could. This time they could hold hands, kiss, and . . . she didn't know what else they could do. But she was dying to
nd out. She caught herself. They had to be careful. Seventeen years was not enough, and in this lifetime, Luce was adamant about sticking around to see what it was like to really be with Daniel.
He cleared his throat and patted the gleaming black hood. "Still drives like a champ. The only problem is . . . " He looked at the convertible's tiny trunk, then at Luce's du el bag, then back at the trunk.
Yes, Luce had a terrible habit of overpacking, she'd be the rst to admit. But for once, this wasn't her fault. Arriane and Gabbe had packed her things from her dorm room at Sword & Cross, every black and nonblack piece of clothing she'd never had a chance to wear. She'd been too busy saying goodbye to Daniel, and to Penn, to pack. She winced, feeling guilty for being out here in California with Daniel, so far from where she'd left her friend buried. It didn't seem fair. Mr. Cole had kept assuring her that Miss Sophia would be dealt with for what she'd done to Penn, but when Luce had pressed him about what exactly that meant, he'd tugged at his mustache and clammed up.