Julian’s lime-green Volkswagen Beetle cruised along the back roads hugging every curve so slow it felt like my head was going to explode from boredom. The drive to Atlanta from Dixon was about an hour and a half even though Dixon was only forty miles away.
I hated living in Dixon. It was a town frozen in time. Nothing exciting ever happened there—and to my displeasure, probably never will. Dixon was so behind on everything modern it was as if they were still living in the fifties. They didn’t even have an indoor movie theater. All they had was the North Star Drive-In where they still played the Dancing Hot Dog trailer from 1957. How pathetic was that?
Gazing out the window, I stared at the vast countryside underneath the moonlight. The tips of the trees glowed, and the dark empty field looked somber like my mood. My insides suddenly churned with regret. What was I thinking? I couldn’t believe I agreed to sneak out of my room so I could go to a club in Atlanta. Since the arrival of the angels, Atlanta had become a haven for higher than normal crime rates, and kidnappings—or so I’d seen on the news. It ranked number three in the country right below Los Angeles and New York.
As a kid, my grandmother used to tell me the story of how they arrived. She said the sky lit up like the 4th of July. Asteroids engulfed in flames hurtled toward the Earth and landed in different parts of the world—one right outside of Atlanta. It happened as the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2000, when the world was preparing itself for an electronic meltdown. The doomsayers took shelter inside bunkers because they believed it was the end of the world. People flocked to the locations of the fallen asteroids with cameras in hand, but what they found shocked the nation; beautiful dark-winged creatures with long hair who looked human and claimed to be angels.
Not everyone believed them, of course, especially people from smaller towns who were super religious. They thought the angels were aliens trying to invade the Earth. They weren’t thrilled about co-existing with a superior race who was faster, stronger and could fly. As a result, angel hate groups sprung up all around America, the most notable known as the Knights Army.
Living in a small hick town like Dixon, meant no angels. We were too far north from the city, too deep in the mountains, too in the middle of nowhere to attract them. The only way in and out of Dixon were back roads that made the trip to the nearest highway painstakingly slow.
I gave myself an imaginary slap in the face, angry for allowing Dawn to convince me to sneak out again. I hated how incapable I was to resist any offer of freedom. I secretly hoped Julian got lost giving us no choice but to turn around and go home.
After a few moments of allowing my mind to wander, I leaned forward and positioned myself between my two best friends Julian Flaim and Dawn Wilde, reached for the radio and turned down the music.
“Are you sure we’re going the right way?” I asked.
“Yup,” Dawn said waving her cell phone. “According to the map, we are twenty miles away.”
“So thirty minutes,” I figured. I snatched Dawn’s phone to check our location, but the screen was frozen. “Dawn, you have no signal.”
“It’s fine,” Dawn said tapping her head. “It’s all in here.”
I squinted my eyes skeptical of Dawn’s sudden sense of direction—I mean, the girl got lost in her own closet. So I turned to Julian.
“Julian, where are we?” I asked sweetly.
“Girl, I’m just the driver. Ask my co-pilot.”
Seeing no way out of this, I sat back defeated.
Dawn dropped the sun visor admiring her reflection in the mirror as she slathered a layer of lip gloss to her shiny lips. Dawn’s been one of my best friends since I moved to Dixon. Unlike me, Dawn had style and wore a little bit too much makeup. It was the result of watching too many YouTube makeup tutorials and following popular style bloggers. She was the curvy blue-eyed bombshell all the boys wanted to date because she had big boobs, I, on the other hand, was the lean, athletic tomboy they avoided because I was too much of a ‘shit-talker.’ It wasn’t my fault I was brutally honest.
“Your negativity is ruining my good vibes,” Dawn complained.
“I am not being negative. I’m just…” I trailed off.
“Scared?” Dawn finished for me.
“Of course I’m scared.” I crossed my arms as I focused my mind on counting the road kill. “What if we get kidnapped, or drugged? Did you know another girl went missing last week?”
Dawn turned to me and said, “Nothing is going to happen to us because we have our very own bodyguard to protect us.” Dawn patted Julian on the arm. “Ain’t that right, boo?”
“I ain’t about to mess this piece of fine art for ‘yo ass,” Julian said waving a hand over his face. “I spent two whole hours on this masterpiece.”
We all burst out in laughter for so long, the tension in my body relaxed.
“Seriously? Two hours on eyeliner and glitter?” I teased.
“Perfection takes time,” Julian answered.
Breathing deeply, I let go of the fear that stirred in my chest and allowed myself to have fun. Julian always managed to make me laugh no matter the situation. Like Dawn, Julian’s been my best friend since middle school. He had the build of a linebacker, but the personality of a unicorn. His eyes were a gorgeous honey brown that perfectly complimented his smooth caramel skin. Together, we were the three amigos.
Before I knew it, the scenery changed. Bright flashes of light dashed by me, a sign we were out of the mountains. I straightened myself as soon as I saw the highway stretched before me, its smooth black roads looping in different directions going places I could only imagine. A twinge of excitement swelled in my belly. In one year I will be navigating those roads on my way back home to Los Angeles. Back to the life I loved, the life I was forced to leave behind when my family moved to Dixon.
The city skyline began to take shape deep in the horizon enveloped by shimmering lights. I couldn’t help but catch my breath and take in the sight. That’s when I saw it, looming in the distance to my far left was Stone Mountain. It stood high above the city in the darkness like a hunter waiting on its prey. While many of the asteroids that fell throughout the world shattered upon impact, Stone Mountain didn’t. The asteroid remained intact, and over time the minerals and rock blended with the Earth’s surface forming a dome-shaped mountain. Not much was known about Stone Mountain, nor did I care. My mother always warned me to stay away from there, so I did.
As we got closer to Atlanta, Stone Mountain faded into the surface and away from my mind.
“We’re here,” Julian’s sing-song voice brought me back to reality.
I gazed out the window in awe of the tall buildings of the city and its labyrinth of noisy streets. A billboard of a female angel model sporting the latest Calvin Klein towered above me. I marveled at her long jealous-worthy hair that came down to her hips; her tan flawless skin, high cheekbones, and unearthly translucent gray eyes. The model’s black wings were folded at her sides as she posed with lips slightly parted.
Right as we passed the billboard, there were numerous flyers plastered all over the city’s concrete walls with missing girls. Underneath, Templar crosses were spray-painted in black—the symbol of the Knights Army—along with a quote: ‘Save Humanity. Save the World.’
My excitement quickly faded and the hairs on my arms raised. I searched for my sister among the smiling faces, even though I knew she wouldn’t be among them. Priscilla ran away from home seven years ago. She called the house every month to check-in, but we hadn’t seen her since.
As Julian cruised through Peachtree Road, it was buzzing with energy and alive with people hopping from one bar to the next. Hungry musicians filled the air with their music while the owners of Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s sat on the hood of their vehicles parked at an angle perpendicular to the road, flashing diamond studded necklaces, designer clothing, and women.
My eyes quickly shifted to the male angels dressed in police uniforms guarding the streets with their human counterparts. They looked taller than they did on TV. I rolled down the window to take a closer look when suddenly, one of the angels spread his black wings then took flight. I watched as he disappeared into the sky.
“Holy crap!” I shrieked. “Did you see that?”
“I did!” Dawn joined me with the same level of excitement.
The loud music from the bars reverberated through Julian’s car, I closed my eyes and felt the chilly wind of freedom. I was so busy taking in the energy of the city, I hadn’t realized the car stopped.
My mouth dropped. I stared at the enormous Gothic structure before me when I realized, “It’s a church.”
Why would anyone turn a church into a nightclub? It felt so wrong.
“Oh. My. God. We’re going to hell,” Dawn said wickedly. She rushed out of the car to the cathedral’s entrance where there was a long line of college-age girls, maybe even younger, dressed in tight revealing dresses and pumps. I felt underdressed.
“What is this Chippendales?” I scoffed with a sarcastic tone.
“Whatever this place is, it sure ain’t holy,” Julian miffed.
I scanned the cathedral as Julian, and I walked toward the line. There were large monstrous gargoyles perched along the roof looking down on the club goers like guards. That, paired with the ominous black paint the church was covered in gave me the chills.
“This place looks freakin’ amazing!” Dawn gleamed.
“Yeah, I feel like I’m going to get zapped by lighting as soon as I step inside,” I said eyeing the place suspiciously. “Are you sure this is a teen club? These girls look like they’re at least twenty-one.”
“Way ahead of you, honey.” Julian handed each of us an I.D. which looked as fake as Dawn’s eyelashes.
“Mable Johnson?” Dawn met Julian’s eyes with a dirty look.
“Mable is my meemaw’s name. What’s wrong with it?”
“No one in this century names their kid Mable!” Dawn screamed at him. Dawn snatched the I.D. card out of my hand. “What’s yours, Alexis?”
She looked down at the woman with dark sunken eyes staring back at her, she seemed older and looked nothing like me.
“Deedee Saint?” Dawn cocked her eye irritably at Julian. “We’re gonna get caught you, moron!”
“Bitch, you need to calm yourself. If you wanted fancy names, you should’ve made them yourself,” Julian exclaimed.
Anxiety and fear ripped through my stomach at the thought of catching a ride in the back of a police car. I constructed all the possible excuses I could give my mother for sneaking out, but none of which she’d believe. Before I could gather up the courage to walk away, I noticed a short bald bouncer walking down the line with a security wand metal detector.
“Come on ladies, you know the drill, pull ‘em out,” he hollered down the line.
“Pull what out?” I thought out loud. One of the girls in front of me turned around as she rummaged through her handbag.
“They disable your camera before you can go inside,” she said. “They don’t like being photographed.”
They? I watched as the guard scanned everyone’s cell phone instantly disabling the camera.
“You two lied to me,” I said fuming with anger.
“Don’t blame me, it was her idea,” Julian said pointing the finger at Dawn who smiled at me innocently.
“So I told a small lie to get you out of the house. Big deal.”
“It is a big deal. You told me we were going to a normal club—with humans!” I combed a hand through my hair. “This is an angel nightclub. If my mother finds out I got arrested here for presenting a fake I.D. she’s going to decapitate my body and feed it to the rats.”
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Dawn said in a low voice. “We’re not going to get arrested.”
“You must be on medication if you think they’re going to let us go,” Julian told Dawn, arms crossed.
“You’re the one who made the I.D.’s genius!” Dawn retorted.
I rolled my eyes over how stupid, and clueless Dawn acted. “If anything, they’ll probably use us as an example for future underage intruders,” I said trying to prevent myself from having a panic attack.
I was about to step out of the line when I heard someone with a stern voice behind me say, “I.D.”
Even though I was too scared to move, I somehow managed to twist around slowly. My eyes were wide with terror as I stood face-to-face with the security guard.
“I.D.,” he said again with a cold demeanor. I sensed the irritation in his voice; I was getting on his nerves for holding up the line. Despite his short stature, the guard’s muscles bulged out of his black SECURITY t-shirt that looked significantly bigger than my head.
Taking my fake I.D. from Dawn, I gulped hard before handing it over. The security guard flashed a light over the card scanning for defects. He looked up at me quizzically which I returned with a nervous smile. He glanced down at the I.D. again trying to match the face on the card with mine.
“What’s your birthday?” he suddenly asked.
“Uh…” I began but couldn’t remember the date on the license. I dug deep in my subconscious when Julian whispered it to me from behind. “Actually, my birthday is in a few hours. October six.”
After a short pause, he handed back the I.D. and wrapped a bright red bracelet around my wrist with glowing angel wings. I blew out a sigh of relief.
I was safe…for now.
Inside, the Gothic architecture continued throughout the nightclub. Vaulted ceilings complete with stained glass windows surrounded the church. The colorful twirling lights danced in unison with the techno-industrial music giving off a kaleidoscope effect. On one wall, a huge red neon sign that said EVE’S PARADISE hung over a garden filled with flower petals of crimson, yellows, oranges, and purples. The mural reminded me of Georgia O’keeffe’s famous flower paintings. Upon closer inspection, I noted it resembled the inside of a peach than a garden. I grimaced once I realized what it was.
What a bunch of pervs, I thought.
The dance floor was crowded with dancing bodies. It was dark and claustrophobic. It stood center of the church where the pews once stood. The bar was on the far left corner of the room where the bartenders were busy mixing drinks to the thirsty crowd. As we got closer to the dance floor, I could see a giant electric-blue cross behind the D.J. who was spinning the wheels on the turntable from the pulpit front and center of a reredos where bikini-clad devil eared go-go dancers replaced statues of Saints and angels. The dancers seduced the crowd with their dance moves and encouraged everyone to raise their hands in the air—which I found so overrated, but the crowd seemed to love it. They were going wild grinding their sweaty bodies on one another. The air felt rich with lust and desire, I thought I might catch an S.T.D.
“Whoa,” I let out.
“I know, right?” Dawn beamed.
Dixon was sunshine and flowers compared to this cesspool of sin. It was a completely different world than mine. I was inside the lion’s den and, although I would never admit it, it scared the hell out of me.
Dawn led the way and I clung on tightly to her arm, Julian not far behind. In every dark corner of the club, I could make out glimpses of couples making out and soon became aware of the nasty glares some of the girls shot my way over my choice of clothing. My black torn jeans and combat boots didn’t blend well inside the walls of Eve’s Paradise, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t there to impress anyone.
Dawn abruptly stopped causing me to bump my head against her back.
“What the hell Dawn?” I complained.
Then I noticed why. Dawn was gawking at the roped-off VIP section of the club. My eyes were like magnets. I found it hard to look away. They were unlike anyone I’d ever seen before. Like the angels on TV, their skin was smooth, luminous and perfectly symmetrical; jaws so defined they made human models look like gremlins. And the rest of us…well the rest of the human race paled in comparison. Their eyes were different colors with a glowing white halo that dazzled around the iris.
There were four of them, in their late teens, early twenties. One was slim but muscular with shoulder-length sandy blonde hair; he had the aura of a seventies rock star complete with a loose navy-blue Hawaiian shirt with images of skulls, roses and the Virgin Mary that was unbuttoned at the top exposing a chest full of hair. The one sitting next to him had a similar build, except his hair was brown and scruffy, his hands were covered with silver rings and Celtic tattoos. He wore a brown leather jacket with different colored pins and patches. The third was just as handsome as the rest, but his skin was light mocha, and his hair was dark, long and lustrous, he looked Native American. He wore a maroon bomber jacket with embroidered gold wings along the sleeves.
But it was fourth who I felt instantly drawn to. He stood out above the rest and was even more attractive than the others. And I had a feeling he knew it too. His striking jet-black hair was tied in a ponytail which exposed his high cheekbones, bronzed skin, and perfectly chiseled face. Even though he was sitting, I could tell he had the build of an Olympic swimmer. He wore a gray V-neck shirt that exposed his toned collarbone, and a black classic double rider leather jacket similar to the one Marlon Brando wore in The Wild One.
I wasn’t surprised they were surrounded by quill lovers—or at least that’s what people called the groupies who were intimately involved with angels. One, in particular, was chewing gum and petting the wing of the Native American, as if he were her lapdog. There were at least two girls for each angel. But from the looks of it, it seemed the angel with the Hawaiian shirt was enjoying the company of the girls more than the others. The other three appeared uninterested and bored.
“Angels.” Dawn finished the sentence for me.
“Break me off a piece of that,” Julian whispered from behind.
My throat tightened at the sound of the word causing my emotions to conflict inside my brain. It was as if the devil and the angel were on my shoulders pulling me apart. Rooted in my mind, I hated the angels because of my sister, but right now I hated myself even more for finding them attractive. Now I understood why girls were quick to drop their panties.
I was so focused on my inner battle, I didn’t realize he caught me staring. The angel with the black leather jacket. I immediately turned around lifting my arms awkwardly in the air pretending to yawn, I almost hit the girl standing beside me, but she grabbed my arm before I could do any damage.
“I’m sorry,” I said embarrassed. Her hair was vibrant-blue, and her eyes were a startling lilac. She was dressed in steampunk wear; leather pants, leather corset with a shrug that connected at the chest, and a leaf pouch belt—for her cell phone perhaps? She probably got lost on her way to a Goth club. And like the others, she was sharp-jawed and didn’t look a day over twenty. But her wings weren’t exposed, there wasn’t a bright halo in her eyes either. I wondered if she was one of them? Or a poser wearing contacts and a costume?
“Like what you see?” the girl asked with her lip curved upward and motioning with her eyes toward the VIP section.
I took another glimpse at the four angels behind the ropes, but the dark-haired one wasn’t there anymore. Annoyed at my disappointment, I shook my head.
“I do,” Dawn replied swiftly. But the blue-haired girl kept her gaze fixed on me ignoring Dawn.
“I can get you an introduction if you’d like,” she insisted.
“It’s okay.” Who the hell was this girl, anyway? Their pimp?
“I’ll be around if you change your mind,” she said. Then she went into the dance floor and got swallowed by the crowd.
“What is wrong with you?” Dawn asked completely horrified by my decision. “You could’ve taken the invitation and taken me through those pearly ropes!”
“I didn’t come here to get down and dirty with angels.”
“But I did,” Dawn insisted.
“That’s a bad decision waiting to happen.” Julian grabbed our wrists and led us onto the dance floor. “Let’s go sweat out all our pent-up hormones.”
We squeezed through the sweaty bodies toward the middle of the dance floor and let loose without a care in the world. I allowed the music to flow through me, pulling me like a puppet on strings. We jumped. We screamed. We laughed. And watched Dawn shake her ass on a random stranger.
On the balcony above that wrapped around the church, I noticed a handful of angels watching. They looked down at the crowd, like a scientist observing his lab rats. The uniformity in their posture made me uneasy. They bore similar features as the angels from the VIP area. They whispered among each other, giggling as if they were sharing a private joke.
After about an hour of non-stop dancing—and pushing off any guy who tried to slither behind me to shake his junk—I broke away from my friends to grab a drink. A female bartender wearing a black leather corset exposing a cheetah print wonder-bra greeted me.
“What can I get you?”
“I’ll have a Screaming Orgasm,” Dawn said with a mischievous tone slipping next to me.
“Is that an invitation?”
We both snapped our heads around to the sandy blonde from the VIP lounge, who was standing next to Dawn. She took one look at his sapphire blue eyes and was immediately smitten. But there was something about him that was off. Maybe it was his unpredictable wild eyes that made me uncomfortable or the way he tilted his head and eyed Dawn from head-to-toe like a slimeball which grossed me out. Instinct told me this guy was bad news.
“Maybe,” Dawn replied as she flirtatiously flipped her hair back exposing her neck.
“Dylan,” he said into her ear.
“I’m Dawn. Our names have the same first letters, D.D.” She giggled with a spark of obsession in her eyes.
“It must be fate,” Dylan replied.
Rolling my eyes, I turned away from the horrific sight. I could already imagine Dawn scribbling ‘D & D’ inside pink hearts all over her notebook.
“Want to dance?” Dylan asked.
“Sure.” Dawn took Dylan by the hand and walked away abandoning me at the bar. I flicked my eyes away in disapproval. I was on the verge of puking.
Waving one hand at the bartender, I was determined to take a shot of something—anything—to erase the repulsive scene I’d just witnessed, but the logical part of my brain insisted on water. I didn’t want to risk falling flat on my ass when sneaking back into my room.
“Water. What are you a nun?” I heard a husky male voice say.
I blew out an irritated sigh and didn’t bother to turn around. Watching my best friend take off with an angel was enough excitement for one night, I didn’t want to deal with an inebriated asshole. My attention was fixated on the colorful display of liquor bottles behind the bar. And there in the mirror, I caught a glimpse of his reflection. My pulse quickened. My cheeks flushed as his dark eyes focused on mine waiting for a response, but I couldn’t find my voice. What was wrong with me? Get it together Alexis.
But how could I? He was way hotter up-close.
Finally, I glanced over my shoulder offering an awkward smile at the angel with the jet-black hair. The halos around his eyes had an ethereal glow to them that burned unnaturally bright in the darkness, you could hardly see the pupil.
“I’ve never seen you here before,” he finally said.
“It’s—it’s—” I stammered, immediately cursing myself for acting like such an idiot. “My friends dragged me out here for a pre-birthday celebration.”
“My name is Milo,” he said with a devilish grin, the kind that could make any girl quiver in her socks. “Milo James.”
I examined Milo’s facial expression a little longer than I expected. He had an annoying sense of confidence that told me he could get any girl he wanted even if he barely tried. And ironically, he had me melting in the cup of his stupidly perfect hand.
“Alexis,” I replied. “Alexis Minerva.”
He motioned for the bartender, who poured a red glow-in-the-dark liquid in a shot glass. Milo pushed the drink toward me. “Happy early birthday, Alexis.”
“What is it?” I asked hesitantly.
“It’s called the Zombie. It’s fruity, you’ll like it.”
I let out a nervous giggle.
“Sounds like something I’ll black out on,” I said pushing the shot back. “I’d like to keep my dignity intact tonight.” I bit my tongue as soon as I said it. My thoughts always had a way of slipping through the cracks of my brain which got me into trouble. To my surprise, Milo didn’t look offended. He was amused.
With one gulp he drank the shot before slamming it on the bar then said, “I like my women aware of the pleasure I’m inflicting.”
He slid out of the bar stool, leaned in closer to me and winked as he gently tapped my chin before leaving. “See you around.”
I sat planted too stunned to move. Who the hell does this guy think he is, Casanova? Cocky S.O.B. And to add more fuel to the fire, he walked into the arms of a gorgeous red-head who greeted him with a kiss that lasted a little longer than I’d cared to watch. My mother had nothing to worry about, I couldn’t attract an angel even if I tried. My charming personality would send them screaming out the door.
Back on the dance floor, I found Julian surrounded by people. He grabbed my hand and twirled me around until I was so dizzy I had to hold on to him to keep my balance. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw my arch-nemesis Savannah Dixon being led to the second floor of the club by an angel. His brown hair was tied up in a man bun, he wore black slacks and a black dress shirt that was tucked in. He looked older—about thirty—and more refined than the other angels at the club. I watched as they walked through the roped off entrance that was guarded by a bouncer.
“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” I asked Julian surprised.
“Oh yeah. What the hell is Savannah doing here?”
What was Savannah Dixon, the daughter of the most prominent family of our little town doing inside an angel club? Savannah’s mom was the mayor of Dixon and anti-angel advocate who often demonized the angels during her speeches. So baring witness to her sweet girl mingling with the ‘devil’s spawn’ was kind of a big deal. So I wasn’t about to sit back and watch. I was determined to catch her in the act for leverage. She was the devil dressed in a hot pink miniskirt.
I dragged Julian to the foot of the staircase.
“You’re following her, aren’t you?” Julian said stopping midway. “Oh girl, my gay-senses are tingling, and they’re telling me you’re gonna get us in a boat-load of trouble.”
“Grow some balls, Julian,” I snapped.
“What do you think I am? A Chia Pet?”
“No, I think you’re my super-tough gay friend who wants dirt on Savannah just as much as I do.” I pleaded. “Remember when she called you a Fruity Lucy all through middle school after you came out of the closet?”
“Payback is a bitch,” I smiled.
He thought about it for a moment. Savannah was a big bully who got away with everything. No one, not even Julian was safe from her insults. Sophomore year Savannah spread a nasty rumor that I gave my now ex-boyfriend, Eddie, an S.T.D., which wasn’t true given the fact I’d never seen a guy naked—ever. Before I knew it, the guys from the football team, along with the cheerleaders, were writing obscene names on my locker and bathroom walls. I used to get phone calls in the middle of the night asking for the ‘red light special.’ When the rumor reached the ears of my mother, she threatened to take me to the doctor to make sure I was still a virgin.
Thankfully, Eddie came to my rescue and shut the rumor mill down, which, didn’t sit too well with Savannah who happened to be Eddie’s crazy ex-girlfriend. My intention was merely to get dirt on Savannah, so she’ll leave me alone at least until graduation.
Julian walked past me and headed up the metal stairs and told the bouncer there was a fight in the bathroom. The bouncer rushed downstairs as Julian ducked under the red rope. I turned over my shoulder to make sure no one was watching, everyone at the club was too drunk to notice us. Once we were in the clear, we rounded the corner toward a small room located at the far end of the church where the door was slightly open.
With my fingers, I motioned for Julian to stay on the lookout. I poked my head inside, Savannah was lounging on a lavish white love seat with a cigar in her mouth. The angel had one arm around her, his face buried in her neck, and the other was heading down her miniskirt. I grimaced right when Savannah locked eyes with mine, her expression shocked. Then the door suddenly closed shut.
“Uh-oh.” I felt Julian tug my shirt. “We gotta go.”
A group of bouncers dashed toward us, we tried to make a run for it but got caught. We were escorted out of the nightclub in true delinquent fashion.