The deep blue sky was fading to a light shade of lilac as dawn slowly broke over the mountains when I got home. I was running out of time. I had to make it back into my bedroom before my mother got home from work and realized I’d snuck out for the night.
I sprinted across my neighbor’s backyard, adrenaline pumping through my veins. In the distance, I heard the neighbor’s annoying dog barking at the sound of leaves crunching underneath my combat boots. But just as I was about to step into the safety of my yard, I heard the thunder-like flapping of wings.
I covered my head with my black hoodie and hid behind a metal shed steadying my breath to keep my heart from jumping out of my chest. As I looked up at the sky, I caught a glimpse of three angels flying west on their way to Atlanta. It was a rare occasion when the angels flew over Dixon. People often hid when they saw them.
I scurried out of the shadows making a dash for my wooden balcony located at the back of our run-down 1900s Victorian house. It was one of those houses people would say had a lot of ‘character,’ meaning it was a piece of crap unless you had money for repairs—money my family didn’t have. Since my mother was the only breadwinner in our home, keeping up with the bills was tough enough. It didn’t help her husband was a deadbeat drunk who slept most of the day.
I came to a sudden stop. Goosebumps rose all over my body causing me to shiver. The type you get when someone is watching you. I glanced around my sleepy neighborhood, all of them unaware of the happenings of the night, but nothing seemed odd. It was quiet. The morning breeze gently swayed the trees in the darkness, but that was the only sound I heard.
Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling someone was out there…watching me.
The lights of my mother’s SUV flashed in the garage.
I rapidly climbed the balcony trying my best not to fall. If my mother caught me, she’d ground me for life.
I stumbled into my room tossing my shoes aside then jumped into the comfort of my bed. I covered myself with an old worn-out blanket—a gift from my dad before moving to Dixon—and pretended to sleep. Knots formed inside my stomach as footsteps approached. Despite the chilly weather, I was sweating underneath the blanket.
I froze at the creaking sound of the door opening behind me. I’m sure my mother was scanning the room looking for anything unusual: a boy hiding in my closet, or maybe a fake doll under the covers like in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. She found nothing but borrowed library books scattered on the floor and mismatched weathered furniture in what was once an attic. After a few seconds she left, and I was finally able to breathe.
This was becoming routine. Every morning when my mother got home from work, she checked my room to make sure I was inside even though I’d never given her a reason, unlike my sister Priscilla.
When Priscilla was sixteen, she got knocked up by an angel. Our house turned into a prison, Rapunzel-style. Priscilla wasn’t allowed to eat, breathe or sleep without permission. My mother tried forcing my sister into getting an abortion, but in the end, she miscarried easing my mother’s worries.
Damn Priscilla. I hated her for ruining my life—but even more—I hated her inability to keep her panties on. If she hadn’t made such a stupid mindless mistake, I’d have more freedom. I was being punished for her actions.
It wasn’t fair.
I sighed profoundly allowing the heaviness of my eyelids to take me under. It wasn’t long before I drifted off to sleep.
A loud pounding on the door woke me from a deep slumber.
“Time to get up Alexis! You’re going to be late for school.” My little brother, Isaac, was on his daily I’m-going-to-annoy-the-living-hell-out-of-my-sister routine.
My eyes weren’t cooperating with me, they somehow seemed to weight ten pounds heavier during the few hours I managed to sleep. I tapped the screen on my cell phone to check the time; it was 7 a.m. I let out an exasperated groan. Why did I let Dawn convince me to go out on a school night? I should’ve stayed home instead of going clubbing.
Milo’s dark, hypnotic eyes flashed through my memories. I couldn’t help but feel a rush of butterflies stir inside my stomach. He was so hot compared to all the boys who went to my school. But he was an angel. Off-limits, and completely forbidden. Besides, I’m sure I’ll never see him again.
Brushing the thought aside, I dragged myself out of bed stumbling over a pile of dirty clothes on the floor. When I opened the door, the sharp, warm scent of fresh coffee filled my nose.
“Happy birthday.” Isaac held up an old beer stein and was grinning from ear-to-ear. Aside from remembering my birthday, something was off about the kind gesture. I took the cup from his hand and ruffled through his curly espresso brown locks.
“How much?” I said taking a sip.
I spit out the liquid, coughing as I told him, “Are you crazy? I don’t have that much.”
“I guess mom will find out about last night.” He started to walk away until I pulled him back by the collar to face me.
“Why do you want fifty dollars, you little brat?”
“There’s a new video game I want.”
“You’re seven, go outside and play like a normal kid. Quit wasting your time on video games.” I tapped the top of his head. “They rot your brain.”
“Mom!” He yelled, but I quickly covered his mouth.
“Okay, fine.” I dug through my jean pockets handing him the contents. “Here’s ten bucks and some change. Don’t spend it all in one place.”
“I said fifty.” Isaac glared at me with his gorgeous baby blue eyes.
I bit my lip trying very hard not to break through the skin. “So I owe you forty. Get out of my face before I tell mother who broke her favorite vase.” His expression told me we had a deal.
“Fine. But I’m charging interest.” Isaac walked away with a sense of confidence in his step. The kid knew how to get under my skin. Sometimes I wished I was an only child. I asked my mother for a puppy when I was ten. Instead, I got Isaac. Lucky me.
After stepping out of the shower, I rummaged through my drawers full of thrift store treasures settling on a grey vintage Queen t-shirt that belonged to Priscilla, torn faded blue jeans and maroon Chucks. I’d never been into fashion nor did I care what anyone thought of me. Comfort and self-expression were vital when it came to clothes. My mother hated everything I wore. She wished I was a little bit more girly. Gone were the days of ruffled polka dot pants and matching bows. Just thinking of all the pastels and paisley my mother made me wear as a kid made me want to hurl.
I entered the kitchen, surprised to find my mother sitting at the table still dressed in her blue scrubs and Crocs. I thought she’d be asleep by now, but I’m guessing she decided to clean the kitchen instead. She was flipping through the Atlanta newspaper and didn’t notice when I walked in.
All my life I’d been told I looked like my mother, same olive skin, chocolate wavy hair, plump lips—and I hated that I did. Other than our looks, we had nothing else in common.
From the corner of my eye, I caught the MISSING PERSONS ad on the back of the paper. All of the smiling faces were teenage girls around my age, mostly runaways. It made me wonder why my mother never added one for Priscilla.
“Morning,” I said waiting to see if she remembered my birthday this year. She didn’t even flinch. How could she forget? Oh, the burdens of being the forgotten middle child.
I hated birthdays anyway. The thought of everyone fussing over me for a day made me cringe. I wish I could skip school today and lay around in my pajamas while watching Netflix and eating pizza. It sounded more appealing than lectures and homeroom. The only good thing that came from turning a year older is knowing it will get me closer to freedom. In one more year I will graduate high school and kiss Dixon goodbye.
I grabbed the bottle of lemonade out of the refrigerator then stuck one hand in the freezer reaching for the ice tray.
“Morning,” she finally said. “Where’s your car?”
Your husband slit the tires in another drunken rage.
“It’s in the shop,” I lied.
“Did you look over the brochures I gave you the other day?” she asked.
I sighed, dread rolling deep in my stomach. I didn’t want to tell my mother about my plans to go back to Los Angeles and live with my dad after graduation to get as far away from her and her crazy-ass husband. But I also didn’t want her to have unrealistic hopes of ever seeing me in blue scrubs one day. So I lied, again.
“I want to be an entertainment lawyer, remember?”
“You have to be smart to be a lawyer.” Her voice was monotone, so I wasn’t sure if she was kidding or being serious. Either way, it hurt.
“I am smart,” I snapped.
“B’s and C’s will not get you into law school.”
“Or a nursing program,” I shot back.
When I placed the ice tray back in the fridge, I noticed a clear mason jar with a piece of paper inside. At first, I thought it was one of Isaac’s little pranks until I got a closer look. Paul’s picture was frozen in the middle.
What the hell?
I took the container and waived it in front of my mother.
“What is this?” I raised an eyebrow, puzzled.
She rushed toward me and snatched the glass out of my hand.
“Leave it alone,” she said placing it back in the freezer.
“What exactly is that supposed to do?” I asked pointing at the jar. “Train Paul into acting like a decent human being?”
“What I do in my private time is none of your business.” There was a dark, icy edge in her voice that took me by surprise. I didn’t bother to respond. To be honest, I didn’t feel like arguing with her again.
This wasn’t the first time I’d found my mother’s jars full of secrets around the house. A few years ago I found a shrine in her bathroom of a lady skeleton covered in a hood that scared the shit out of me. I never stepped foot inside her bedroom after that. She’d been practicing a form of Cuban witchcraft known as Santeria recently that required blood sacrifice. Sometimes I’ll find her in the backyard chanting in a strange language with a bird in her hand. I didn’t understand why my mother felt she had to go to such lengths to control her husband. I get Paul had PTSD from all of the times he deployed to Iraq, but still—I don’t think it’s working too well for her because Paul is still an asshole.
Every time I confronted her about it, she got defensive or tried to validate it as an old ritual in the bible. ‘People sacrificed animals before Jesus saved us,’ she’d say. For a church-going woman, my mother certainly wasn’t acting like a saint.
The loud honk coming from Jane’s Prius snapped me back to reality. I grabbed my backpack and bolted through the door.
I heard Jane’s cheerful voice coming from her car, “Good morning Mrs. Torrez!”
She waved to my mother, who awkwardly smiled and waved back. If there was anything my mother and I had in common, we both found Jane incredibly annoying. No one is so damn happy early in the morning. I was already in the passenger seat when Jane plopped a big white box on my lap.
“Happy birthday, Alexis!” She squealed. “Open it!”
“Jane, you shouldn’t have,” I said mortified. I could’ve sworn I told Jane no presents, but I guess she didn’t get the memo.
I opened the box then picked through the white paper stuffing until I found a jaw-dropping black and silver Venetian mask decorated with intricate spirals and jewels. I brushed my fingers along the black satin ties feeling like a jerk.
“Thank you,” I told her sincerely.
“You’re welcome. I figured you could wear it to the Halloween dance,” she said pleased with her herself. As the president of almost every club at Dixon High, Jane coordinated every social event, every year, to include all the awful dances.
“Oh right, I completely forgot about it.” I hadn’t forgotten. I wasn’t planning on going. “It looks expensive, Jane. You really shouldn’t have.”
“I bought it while I was in Venice, it wasn’t expensive at all,” she said waving a hand in the air like it wasn’t a big deal.
I quickly glanced at her short raven hair that was perfectly combed and in place thanks to a headband. The pink and gold jewels sparkled under the sun that made her almond-shaped eyes stand out. Lucky Jane, she got to travel through Europe during the summer all thanks to her father’s connections to the military. She got an internship inside the Army base in Vicenza working at the daycare, and got to travel through the countrysides of Italy wine tasting and eating tons of carbs.
Thankfully, the car ride to school was short. I somehow managed to block Jane’s endless babbling until we arrived at Dixon High: Home of the Nimrods. A name that perfectly described most of the kids who went to the school, and how religious Dixon is. There were more churches in town than there were grocery stores.
Jane neatly parked the tiny car in her designated parking spot close to the entrance of the school. I quickly grabbed my bag then rushed inside before she could catch up.
“I’ll see you later, Jane. Thanks for the ride!” I shouted as I navigated through the masses.
I found Dawn by my locker twirling a piece of her short platinum blonde hair around her finger and blowing a giant pink bubble with her gum. I popped it as I walked by.
“I was enjoying that,” she frowned.
“I’m sorry to burst your bubble.” I opened my locker and stuffed the white box inside.
“What’s that?” Dawn asked taking the mask. She took off her sunglasses and tried it on.
“A gift, compliments of Jane Hayle.”
“A gift from Jane the Virgin? How dull.” Dawn tossed the mask back into the box, then crossed her arms. “You said you didn’t want anything for your birthday. Clearly, Miss Goodie-Two-Shoes isn’t very good at following directions.”
“If you’re really that mad about not getting me a gift, I’ll be happy to take those Fake Bans off your hands.” I snatched Dawn’s sunglasses and tried them on. “They look better on me anyway.”
Dawn scoffed at my insult then took the glasses back. “I don’t wear imposters.”
I felt a hand rub against the small of my back causing me to jump in surprise. I turned around and met Eddie Luna’s amused smoky brown eyes, his thick dark hair parted to one side. He was wearing a fitted blue letterman jacket that made him look taller than his actual height.
My eyes widened at the embarrassing display of balloons and roses he held on one hand. In the other, he had a small jewelry box.
He leaned in closer to me and whispered, “Happy Birthday,” into my ear.
“Thank you,” I said sarcastically, my cheeks turning bright red.
I took the small box and opened it. Inside was a stunning rose-gold necklace with a heart-shaped pendant. My current favorite color.
“It brings out the green in your eyes,” he said taking the necklace out of the box. Before I could say anything, he was behind me brushing my hair to one side and wrapping the chain around my neck. The necklace felt foreign against my skin like it didn’t belong there.
I looked at Dawn who held back laughter as she mouthed oh my God.
When he finished, I took a peek in the mirror inside my locker. He was right, it did bring out the green in my eyes. A trait I inherited from my paternal grandmother. She died before I was born, but from what my dad used to tell me, she had the greenest hazel eyes with golden flecks around the iris that illuminated in direct sunlight.
“You know how I feel about gifts,” I said annoyed.
“I know. But, when I saw it at the mall, I knew it would look good on you.” He smiled.
I snorted. “Is this your way of saying you want to get back together?”
I felt the curious glances around us, followed by giggles and whispers. I’m sure everyone was probably wondering if Eddie and I were back together. We weren’t. Ever.
“No,” he shot back defensively. “I just wanted to give you something for your birthday.” He ran a hand through his hair, clearly frustrated. “Why do you always have to be this way?”
“And what way am I being, Eddie?” I gave him a look daring him to call me a bitch because that’s exactly how I was acting.
“You know what? Never mind.” He took the flowers with him and flung them into the trash walking past Julian who shot us a confused glare.
“What’s wrong with him?” Julian said towering over us. He had a skinny latte from Starbucks in his hand and a rainbow scarf hung loosely around his neck.
“He’s pissed he can’t get back on the Alexis train.” Dawn informed him.
“Oh,” Julian said taking a sip from his coffee. “That boy still has it hard for you, girl.” Julian gave me a look that said, and you know it. I shrugged it off and went back into my state of denial.
“Anyway.” I turned to my locker.
“Oh God, don’t look now but Queen Beyotch is totally mad-dogging you right now,” Dawn said.
I glanced across the hallway landing on the daughter of the founding family of Dixon, cheerleader, Homecoming Queen, and royal pain-in-my-ass Savannah Dixon. She was standing by her locker, her long peroxide blonde hair was up in a ponytail covered with pounds of glitter and dressed in her cheerleading uniform. Next to her stood her band of dolled up Dixon Chicks, Mallary-Rose and Ruth-Anne, staring into space. Both of Savannah’s little sidekicks were petite, sun-baked Barbie dolls dumber than rocks.
Savannah’s face twisted with envy and recognition. She saw us last night. I know she did. I rolled my eyes and tried my best not to make eye contact with her. But despite turning around, I could feel the heat of her stare on the back of my neck.
“Someone’s jealous,” Julian said.
“The infamous Alexis-Eddie-Savannah love triangle,” Dawn chimed in.
“It’s not a love triangle when you take me out of the equation.” From the moment I started dating Eddie sophomore year, Savannah held a grudge against me. It’s understandable, she dated him first, but after so many years you’d think she’d be over him. But then again, it didn’t help Eddie ran back to her every time we broke up. Over the summer when we got back together, I found out Eddie was cheating on me with Savannah, so I ended things with him.
“Do you think Mayor Dixon knows her daughter is hooking up with an angel?” Julian asked.
“What?” Dawn perked up. She was so busy with her new boy-toy we forgot to tell her about Savannah.
“She was at Eve’s Paradise last night,” Julian told her.
“No way! Little Miss Sunshine with Mayor Dixon’s sworn enemies?” Dawn gasped. “That’s juicy gossip waiting to be spilled.”
“No,” I said in a commanding voice. “Let’s keep this to ourselves until Savannah provokes one of us. Then we spill the beans.”
Dawn groaned. “You always take the fun out of everything.”
“Someone has to be the voice of reason,” I sneered.
“So, what are we doing tonight for your birthday?” Julian changed the subject.
“I’ve got a hot date with my TV and pajamas,” I said jamming my book inside my locker.
“I say we go back to Eve’s Paradise,” Dawn suggested.
“For what?” Julian cocked his head to one side. “So you can ignore us all night while you play tongue twister with Dylan?”
“Yes!” Dawn clapped her hands in delight.
I didn’t want to go back to Eve’s Paradise. The nightclub was a haven for young girls who wanted to meet angels. It’s where my sister met the angel who impregnated her. And I wasn’t in the mood to party. I was so tired from last night, I didn’t know how I was getting through school today.
“Yeah, there’s no way I’m going,” I said.
“Quit being lame and live a little—on the dark side.” Dawn lowered her voice as she said the last words in an attempt to sound dark and mysterious.
“I live. I snuck out last night didn’t I?” I argued.
“Dancing with the tight body of an angel sounds like way more fun.” Dawn danced around Julian, shaking her behind on his.
“Oh girl, you’re barking up the wrong tree.” Julian shooed Dawn away as he took another sip of his coffee.
“You guys have fun getting groped.” I shut my locker and walked away. “You can tell me all about it tomorrow.” I waved a hand goodbye as I turned the corner to my first class