Only 179 1/2 more days to go, Zeph consoled himself when the lunch bell rang, counting down the days till the end of his senior year. Not that he expected his life to get magically better after graduation, or anything. In fact, it was probably going to get worse seeing how he had no clue what he was supposed to do for the rest of his life.
That might be pretty normal for most teenagers, but he wasn’t exactly normal. He was a Celestia Divisa — half angel/half human, and he was supposed to have a destiny. Too bad nobody could tell him what it was. He didn’t even have a special gift like every other Celestia on the planet.
Zeph schlepped his lunch tray to the table where a few of the nicer Celestia usually sat. Maddock Engel was already there; his twin brother Cheydan wouldn’t be far behind. Sometimes Zeph’s sister Charisse would sit there with him, but since today was the first day of the new school year, Risse would want to catch up with all her friends.
Not that they had missed much. Fifteen-year-old Risse and her merry band of followers had spent the whole summer texting and Snapchatting and YouTubing every single moment of their frivolous lives.
Risse had a wildly popular beauty blog called Risse’s Pieces where she doled out practical advice on things like the year’s best new lip glosses and 101 ways to update your ponytail. Zeph would be tempted to hate her for being so shallow if she wasn’t also so incredibly nice. Her catchphrase was “Remember, kindness is the best beauty product of all time.” Adorable.
Zeph, on the other hand, had spent the summer hiding in his room, watching TV and playing video games, avoiding everyone who was likely to ask him what his plans were for after high school. But then, Zeph was the exact opposite of his sister.
Where Risse was beautiful, and popular, and outgoing, and good at everything she tried, 17-year-old Zeph lurked in his sister’s shadow. According to his parents, Zeph’s glory days had lasted for approximately nine months — from the time his parents discovered they were going to have a baby till the day they found out their special angel didn’t even have a normal Celestia gift. Things had pretty much gone down hill from there.
Zeph’s lack of abilities became the hottest gossip in the Celestia circles and was still the main topic of conversation whenever his name came up. For a while, the community waited patiently to see if his gift would present, but when his parents announced they were expecting again, all eyes turned towards Charisse.
Initially, they were disappointed when Charisse only had one gift despite being a double-blooded Divisa, but as her talents and beauty developed, Charisse began to shine. She might only have one gift, but she became the epitome of the perfect Divisa. Her extraordinariness made Zeph seem even more lacking by comparison, and his father especially made it obvious he was disappointed in Zeph.
“Hey Zeph, you gonna try out for football this year?” Maddock asked, passing Zeph his brownie. You couldn’t have a conversation with Maddock without receiving some kind of gift.
Zeph gladly snarfed it down. Life sucks, but chocolate helps — that was Zeph’s motto. Not exactly as inspirational as his sister’s, but then, nobody cared what he had to say.
“I don’t know, maybe. It’s not really worth my effort if the coach never lets me play.”
“You’re not a bad player; I’ve seen you run a couple good plays.”
Zeph shrugged. Like most things, Zeph’s athletic talents were average. He wasn’t terribly bad at anything he tried, he just wasn’t very good at anything. He kept trying new things, hoping to find something he could excel at, but so far he had yet to find any real talents.
“Hey Zeph, how was your summer?” asked Cheydan as he sat down next to his brother, Maddock. The boys shared identical dark hair, tan skin, and dimpled smiles.
“Pretty good,” Zeph lied. Nobody wanted to hear him complain. “Yours?”
The twins proceeded to tell him all about their mission trip to Zimbabwe or somewhere equally exotic. Zeph quit listening after a few minutes and let his eyes explore the crowd.
The first day always felt like going to a whole new school at Indy High. There were so many students, you could go days without seeing a familiar face. Or maybe it just seemed that way to Zeph since he didn’t try very hard to make friends.
The only thing that stayed the same was the layout of the cliques at the different tables. Like in his sister’s favorite movie Mean Girls, he could pretty much draw you a map.
“You got your freshmen, ROTC guys, preps, J.V. jocks, Asian nerds, cool Asians, varsity jocks, unfriendly black hotties, girls who eat their feelings, girls who don't eat anything, desperate wannabes, burnouts, sexually active band geeks, the greatest people you will ever meet, and the worst.” Zeph quoted the line in his head as he scanned the room. It was a pretty accurate description.
He always noticed the other Celestia right away. They had a certain glow about them that he could immediately recognize. Of course, he knew all of them, anyway. The quarterly ceremonies ensured the Celestia community stayed tight. He already knew most everybody’s gifts, too, and if he didn’t he could usually figure it out.
His eyes skimmed past a motley group of misfits then quickly backtracked to take a closer look. There were seven people sitting at the table — a pretty blonde girl and an equally attractive guy Zeph assumed was her boyfriend by the intimate way they were touching, a plain but perky girl and her short but handsome boyfriend, a hyper Asian boy chugging a Mountain Dew, an enormous black boy dressed mostly in neon, and at the very end of the table, an angel with fiery red hair and a flowery dress.
Zeph glanced briefly at all the others, but it was the girl on the end who held his eye. She was beautiful, but that wasn’t why he found her so fascinating. At least that’s what he told himself. He was almost positive she was a Celestia, but he knew he’d never seen her before at any of the ceremonies, and he couldn’t for the life of him recognize her gift.
She looked kind but didn’t glow with it like his sister, she seemed intelligent but didn’t radiate wisdom like his Spanish teacher, Amora Sophia Santino. Zeph figured she would settle the jumpy kid next to her if her gift was peace or patience, but she ignored his crazy antics and sat quietly instead. Zeph stared harder, squinting his eyes and shaking his head, hoping to rattle his brain.
As the girl lifted her head, Zeph quickly shifted his gaze. He felt her eyes land on him, and he wondered if she had seen him staring. He picked up his pizza and took another bite and tried to focus on what the Engel twins were saying, but after a few seconds he couldn’t resist looking her way again.
She was still staring at him! Zeph self-consciously smoothed his hair and wiped his mouth. A glance at his body didn’t reveal any obvious wardrobe malfunctions, but he surreptitiously checked his fly just in case.
Why was she staring at him? He didn’t think she had noticed him looking her way. He wasn’t the kind of guy that normally caught other people’s attention. His looks were as average as the rest of him. Not bad, but nothing that would attract a beautiful girl’s eye. After a few seconds, he felt her gaze shift, and he sighed. Another glance told him that the conversation at her table had distracted her.
Maybe she knew who he was, Zeph speculated. He was sort of… notorious amongst the Celestia. Maybe she had heard all about the loser who everybody expected to be special but who turned out to be a dud instead.
“Uh, guys,” Zeph muttered, interrupting the twins’ animated conversation about their trip to Zimbabwe, “do you see that redheaded girl over there? I’m pretty sure she’s a Celestia, but I’ve never seen her before. Have you?”
The Engel twins stopped mid-sentence and swiveled their heads simultaneously to look her way. “You mean the girl staring at you?” they replied in unison.
“Can you be any more obvious?! Quit gawking!”
“Sorry, dude. Don’t know her. What makes you think she’s a Celestia if you’ve never seen her before?”
“Doesn’t she look like a Celestia to you?” Zeph quirked his eyebrows.
“Uh, no, not particularly,” Maddock replied, and Cheydan shook his head.
“Why don’t you go talk to her if you’re so curious?” Maddock suggested.
“If you haven’t noticed, I’m not in the habit of approaching random girls for no reason.”
“You have a reason — you think she’s hot!” Maddock teased.
“Maybe she just moved here or something. I’m sure you’ll see her at the next ceremony if she’s a Divisa,” Cheydan replied.
“You know, patience isn’t always the answer, Cheydan. Sometimes a guy’s gotta be brave enough to make a move. I personally find chocolate to be the way to a girl’s heart. Why don’t you give her your extra brownie?”
Zeph rolled his eyes. “Geez, you guys. Just forget I said anything, all right?”
Zeph shifted his attention to finishing his lunch, but every few minutes he risked a glance in her direction. Half the time, he could swear she was looking his way, but every time he looked, she turned her head before he could catch her eye. He wished he had the guts to approach her like Maddock suggested, but he would never be suave enough to pull it off, so there was no sense even trying.
When the bell rang, Zeph thought briefly about trying to sidle up to her as she joined the throng exiting the cafeteria, but she was way on the other side, and Zeph would have to climb over tables just to get there before she reached the door. With a sigh, Zeph dumped his trash in the can and made his way slowly through the crowd. Cheydan was right; if she was a Celestia she would eventually show up at a ceremony. Zeph could wait.
* * *
Eve poked at the salad on her tray as she listened to her friends complain about the classes they had this semester, but her attention was really on the boy across the room. She had no idea who he was, didn’t remember ever seeing him before, but she felt his eyes on her occasionally, and she wondered why he kept looking at her. She resisted the urge to stare back, instead taking only infrequent peeks. There was something about him that drew her in, some kind of depth to him that made him seem special.
She had the same feeling about other people once in a while; in fact, the twin boys sitting across from him exuded the same light. But there was something even more special about the first boy.
He was plain, but in a cute sort of way. His nose was a little too big, his mouth a little too wide, but his honey brown hair was thick and shiny, and his blue eyes were as bright as pool water. His clothing looked cooler than he did. He wore expensive-looking jeans and a trendy, button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, exposing his tanned arms, but his body language said he wasn’t comfortable in his own skin.
The conversation at her table switched to the upcoming Mathlete contest, and her ears perked. Eve loved math, and she was good at it. She loved the patterns and the constancy of it all, the way you could always check your answer and know for sure that it was right. Your performance in math didn’t come down to anyone’s opinion of how you did, it was all about the numbers. You either did it right or you got it wrong.
She liked things that were predictable and quantifiable, which was why it drove her crazy when she got that weird feeling about certain people. It was just a hunch she had at times that someone was different from everyone else. She felt like she knew something about them without even talking to them. But she didn’t believe in hunches. They were too intangible. That didn’t stop her from having them, though. Shaking her head to try to stop the sensation, Eve turned her attention back to the conversation.
“The first meet is this Saturday already.” A broad smile lit Tara’s plain features. Thanks to the influence of their newest friend, Rachel, Tara was finally starting to experiment with makeup, and her cheeks and lips glowed with a soft, rosy hue. She hadn’t quite mastered eye makeup yet, but it was a start.
“You gonna give my girlfriend a run for the title this year, Eve?” Tyler squeezed Tara’s shoulders.
“Eve’s gonna blow Tara out of the water like always!” Garrett pumped his fists, sloshing soda on his Star Wars tee shirt. “Sorry, Tara, but you know it’s true! Eve’s undefeated!”
“You guys make Mathletes sound like an extreme sport,” Cameron interjected. “Is this like women’s wrestling or something? It sounds like something I should see.”
“You got that right!” Reggie slapped his large, black hands on the table with a huge smile. “Eve may look all sweet and innocent, but she’s a tiger on the buzzer.”
Eve blushed at the description. She was pretty competitive.
“We’re meeting after school today in the library, Eve,” Tara said. “Can you stay?”
Eve nodded. “For a little while. I have to take my brothers to karate at 5.”
“I wanna take karate!” Garrett jumped up and waving his arms in a pseudo attack.
When the bell rang, Eve glanced towards the boy again, but he was gone, lost in the crowd of students, and she wondered if she’d ever see him again.
Copyright Kellie McAllen. All Rights Reserved.