As soon as I opened the front door, the hair on the back of my neck stood up and a tingle ran down my spine. The scent of cinnamon filled my nostrils. It was like having those little candy Red Hots shoved up my nose. Dread in the form of a knot settled in the base of my stomach.
Xavier was…I wasn’t sure what he was. Was he the descendant of a fallen angel like me? Was he an angel himself? Or was he something else, something more sinister?
He certainly looked it. He certainly acted it. He exuded evil.
He was lounging on our couch, his arms spread out over the back of it and his right ankle propped on his left knee. His black hair was slicked back, and he’d grown a goatee since the last time I’d seen him. As usual, he was dressed in a black suit with a red tie, what I mentally referred to as his “villain suit.”
I couldn’t believe he was the same man who used to read me bedtime stories and tuck me in when my mom had to work nights.
A smile stretched across his face and his black beady eyes watched me enter the room. The only thing that could possibly make him more snakelike was if a thin red forked tongue flitted out of his mouth.
I’d be less surprised than if a hippo flounced around my living room in a pink tutu in true Fantasia style.
My mom sat stiffly on a chair across from him. It was our home, but Xavier was in control here. Her eyes met mine, and she shrugged her shoulders slightly. She had no idea why he was here either. We hadn’t expected him for at least a couple more months.
“Welcome home, Ava,” Xavier said. “Why don’t you have a seat?”
“No, thanks. I’ll stand.”
He chuckled. “Suit yourself.”
Xavier took a moment to inspect his cuticles, as if he weren’t in the middle of our living room, as if we weren’t waiting for him to say whatever it was he came to say so he would leave again. I’d say he was oblivious to the effect he had on us, but that wouldn’t be true. He knew, and he relished it.
I crossed my arms over my chest. “What do you want?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Is that any way to treat a guest in your home?” He looked at my mother. “You should really teach her better manners.”
I laughed bitterly. “Calling yourself a guest implies that you’re wanted here.”
“Ava,” my mom said, her tone sharp.
Xavier just threw his head back and laughed. “No, Mary, let the little vixen spew her venom. I like it. It’s honest. Honesty is underrated in society today, don’t you agree?”
I glared at him.
“I have your next assignment.”
My glare faltered as I fought to keep the air moving in and out of my lungs. An assignment from Xavier meant the blood of an innocent would be on my hands again.
When I said I worked for the Grim Reaper, that was oversimplifying it a bit. There’s actually more than one. Think about it—with all the people who die every day in the world, how could there possibly be just one?
The particular Grim Reaper I worked for was special, though. He collected souls that were worthy of being angels. It was my job as a seeker to find those souls.
How’s that for an after school job?
“Forgive me, Xavier, but isn’t it a little soon?” my mom said quietly. “She hasn’t even had a chance to get settled in her new school.”
He glanced at her before returning his attention to me. “She can handle it. Besides, it’s time.”
“But her last assignment was just last month!” my mom protested. “Are you sure—”
“I’m very sure.”
I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose. The knot of dread in my stomach exploded, seeping into the rest of my body. I breathed deeply, desperately trying to keep control. The last thing I wanted was to lose it in front of Xavier.
“How long do I have?”
Two weeks. I had two weeks to put a plan into motion that would change lives irrevocably.
My classmates’ faces popped into my mind. I hadn’t bothered getting to know anyone or even learning names. I told myself it was easier that way, easier being a relative term.
But did any of them have a white aura? When I was at school, I always blocked them out. Otherwise, the barrage of auras became a colorful assault on my senses. School was difficult enough as it was. I didn’t need the added distraction. Moving around so much had left gaps in my education, so even though I was pretty smart, I perpetually struggled to maintain decent grades. Why I even bothered anymore was a mystery, though. I would probably end up a waitress just like my mother. It was hard to develop a career or even think about college with our transient lifestyle.
I squared my shoulders and looked Xavier in the eye, faking the bravado I lacked. “I guess I’ll see you in two weeks.”