This is just a page for me to post my favorite scenes from Effervesce because I want to bring some !*happiness*! into the world, just because I love Anza and Jace so much! And I’m not even posting all my favorite scenes!
* * *
Scene 1 – Flirty wings!
* Scene context: Anza and Jace have just been mutated along with everyone else and they have – gasp! – wings. They’re still at school (they’re 22, but schooling is required up to that age in this world!)
I sniff and close the flap on my satchel, shut my locker, and stand up. “What makes you think I thought of you at all?”
He falls into step beside me, his pale blue eyes staring out from under a platinum fall of hair. “You’re always shoving bugs my direction, like some kind of kid’s idea of a present.”
“Ha! Cascade has panic attacks at the sight of hairy insect legs.” I stumble as I think of her, but she’ll be alright. I have to believe that. It’ll be fixed. Her father will fix it. Then we’ll fix our friendship again and it’ll be alright, only with wings, and she’ll call me sparkly pink fairy princess and I’ll pretend-bash her face in…
I clear my throat, going back to bugs and Jace and other people’s wings around me swooping out of the way of my shoulders. “You’re always sitting on the opposite side of me as she is, hence the bug-shoving your way, genius.”
His response falls by the wayside because something odd is happening. His wing feathers and mine keep barely brushing, making me feel as if a ghost of Jace’s hand is touching my shoulder and stroking along it, slipping up to my neck, slipping his fingers under my hair…
I want to tell him to keep his wings to himself, but to be fair, mine don’t seem to be respecting his wings’ personal space, either. Whenever I subtly shift away, the pink feathers strain right back toward his in some sort of opalescent desperation.
Why aren’t our wings behaving normally and backing off like other people’s more respectable wings are?
No, they are behaving normally—halfway.
The wing on my other side scrunches and shrinks to avoid everyone else’s wings, twitching the muscles in that shoulder like mad, and the wing on his other side does the same. It’s just his and mine right next to each other that go all gung-ho touchy-feely…
Oh, freak. Are our wings flirting?
Stop it, I tell them. You’re making a spectacle of yourselves.
“Did you hear me, Anza?”
“Huh?” I focus on Jace again as we join the jostling mass exodus toward the school doors.
“I’ll walk you to your work ops.”
“You really don’t have—”
“Just humor me.” He doesn’t smile, his intent gaze scrutinizing the winged students shouldering past us; some of their eyes look frantic, the whites showing above and below their irises, and their laughter borders on shrieky. “I don’t trust people right now.”
Scene 2 – Funny Mom!
* Scene context: Anza and Jace are headed to work ops (required after-school internships) after the mutation and Anza’s mom has just called. Anza’s trying to keep Jace out of the camera so her mom doesn’t see. This scene comes mid-conversation. [Oh, and you have to be a registered couple to kiss in this world haha!]
“Anza, honey, I’m not sure you should be alone.”
And there’s Mom’s worried-about-the-fragile-daughter look. Her small mouth gets smaller and she taps her forefinger on her lips. “I think—”
“I’m fine, Mom.”
“And she’s not alone,” Jace butts in.
I choke. Mom’s face goes blank.
Then her mother-sense snaps into life. Her eyes turn keen. “Who is that, Anza?”
I kick Jace in the ankle and summon a stilted smile while he jumps around, mouthing ‘ow, ow, ow’. “No one, Mom.”
“I object!” Hopping over, Jace squeezes in beside me so he’s in the camera view. “I’m not no one.”
My toothy smile freezes on my face. With all the technological advancements, why is there still no button for sinking into the ground? Or, better yet, sinking some other blockhead into the ground?
Mom’s going to put it together the instant she knows his name that he’s the one I almost kissed without being registered.
The one who dumped me like a sack of diseased cow droppings and fled.
The one I still start painting if I’m not paying attention to the paintbrush in my hands.
And once she knows Jace is the one I can’t quite forget, she’ll go into matchmaking mode.
Freak. I’m still smiling, although by now it must look more like a wolf frozen in the middle of baring its teeth.
I try to push my lips back down over those teeth and end the stilted thing, but they won’t go.
Mom refrains from any sort of expression, merely tilting her head to the side. “You are…?”
“Whole name, if you please.” She looks down, waiting. Several random curls of hair jut charmingly out of her chignon, unlike my wavy-curly hybrid things, which never attended charm school in their lives.
“Jace Centennial Slocum.”
Mom taps something on her tablet, her eyelids flickering as she scans the data.
The edges of my ears go hot, and my stilted smile finally implodes on itself and collapses.
Mom’s doing a background check on him.
Jace must realize it, too, because he slowly straightens and his profile assumes a stoic, crap-I’m-about-to-be-screwed-and-not-in-the-good-way look. He holds himself unnaturally still.
I have no pity for him. Dude brought it on himself. I only hope she unearths something really really nasty on him. Something that’ll make me not regret that the almost kiss hadn’t become my first misdemeanor for borderline oxygen abuse.
“Hmm. Hmm.” Mom’s fingers tap-tap some more. “Hmmmmmm.”
“What’s that mean?” Jace ducks his head close to mine, his breath fanning over my ear. “That was a really long ‘hm’.”
My heart flip-flops at how close his mouth is to my cheek. “Do you have to breathe down my neck?” I ask, trying for grouchy and getting something kind of excited, instead.
Mom looks up. “Why are you with Anza, Jace?”
Jace returns his gaze to her. His throat jumps as he swallows and he attempts a natural shrug. “I didn’t want her walking the streets alone after what they did to us. Some people… might react unpredictably.”
“Why Anza, though? Why aren’t you walking some other young woman?”
Jace flushes. Looking down, hands in his jean pockets, he toes one of the solar panels. What the—he’s actually blushing. I consider taking a picture for possible blackmail material. Or just for posterity’s sake.
“I—she sits next to me in class, and after the—the thing with Cascade, I knew that Anza would be by herself and—” He angles me a desperate glance.
I smile sweetly. I’m not bailing you out, sucker.
“I think I see now.” Mom cocks her head to the side again, analyzing Jace with an inscrutable look. He reaches up as if to loosen his collar, but his loose-necked tee can hardly be the culprit of whatever suffocation he’s ailing from.
Then she smiles at him, all warmth and twinkling eyes and acceptance. “Well, it’s a pleasure to know you’re with Anza.”
Jace slumps, summoning an uncertain smile. “Thanks, Mrs. Soleil. It’s really my pleasure.”
“I can see that.” Her eyes slide back to me. “I don’t know why you were hiding him from me, honey.”
My jaw drops. “What?”
Jace grins and elbows me. “Your turn.”
“I’m not hiding—”
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of. He’s cute. He’s tall. Really nice eyes. And those blue wings of his are adorable. Show me yours.”
Reluctantly, I step away from the wall. The muscles in my shoulders and down my back tense as the wings unfurl to their full form, brushing fingers of a breeze over my back. Iridescent pink feathers glimmer at the periphery of my vision.
Sparkly fairy princess bastards.
“Oh, honey.” Mom’s hand flies up too late to hide her laughter. She makes an effort at a straight face. “Are yours pink and glittery?”
My cheeks flame. “It’s not freaking funny!”
“And right beside his pale blue…” She ducks her head, utterly failing to control herself and abandoning all pretense of it.
Jace is shaking beside me. The jerk is laughing, too. I’m sure of it.
“Mom! You’re embarrassing me. We just got mutated and you’re teasing me!”
She stifles her chuckles—mostly, amusement still sparkling in her amber eyes. “I didn’t mutate out of being your mom, Anza. I’m allowed to rib you.”
“I’m going to hang up on you.”
“No, you won’t. You’re too nice. Heaven knows you didn’t get it from me. Anyway, you should be happy that you got such pretty wings.” She flaps a hand over her shoulder. “I got these waxy green things. Same color as the leaves of one of the hybrids I was pruning when it happened.”
“Who cares what color they are, Mom? Don’t you care what they did to us?”
The spark in her eyes snuffs out, her laughter fading completely. “Of course I do, Anza, but getting angry won’t magically make the feathers vanish. If you want to get rid of them, start researching. If you want to keep them, learn to live with it. Simple. Change what you can and accept what you can’t.”
Mom’s life motto. How could I forget?
Her shoulders heave in a sigh, and at the bottom of the video screen I see the top tip of a treelet whose leaves she’s idly playing with.
Uh, oh. Her Time for Mothering has come to an end; now it’ll be back to Biologist Save the World mode.
“In other news,” she says, “I just wish I could figure out why our tree hybrids won’t grow taller than a foot despite our catered, nurturing environments.”
Yup, I was right.
“Mom,” I cut her off before she can go on a tangent, “I should probably be heading to work ops.” Beyond the phone display, the streets are clearing of people as they trickle off the sidewalks and into buildings.
She blinks. “Of course, honey, just bear with me one moment more. Jace?”
He snaps to attention. “Yes, ma’am?”
“If you hurt her, I will personally eviscerate you and serve your intestines up to you on a silver platter. Capiche?”
Jace gives a rough nod, his white hair swishing over his eyes. “Completely.”
“Fantabulous!” She beams at me and gives me a thumbs-up. “You’re good to go. Say hi to Ted for me. Kisses to you. Mwah, mwah!” She blows me two. “And give one to Jace so he doesn’t feel left out.”
“Mom! You were just talking about ripping his entrails out.”
“Yes.” She winks at me.
The screen goes blank.
I can’t look at Jace. I can hear him laughing and see his shoulders shaking out of the corner of my eye. Apparently both he and the wings are in Mom’s good graces now.
I would so love to punch him in the arm for that, but after my run-in with the ropy man, I’m paranoid about my wristband.
And so I just groan and stuff the phone back in my satchel. “Why did you have to stick your face in there?”
Jace doubles over, clutching his stomach. “It was so worth it. And speaking of, about that kiss…” He waggles his eyebrows at me.
“Putz.” Harrumphing, I start walking, head high. “You’ve been warned. You’re on her hit list if you hurt me now.”
Scene 3 – The Stepdad
* Scene context: Anza is leaving work ops and is outside in front of the building waiting for her stepdad (huge bearlike dude named Ted!) to come down so they can walk home.
I amble toward the fountain. Graffiti streaks across its base in edifying niblets such as ‘The Vezai have no soul’ and ‘They’re lying to you’.
Poor misled rebels, I think, seeing conspiracies everywhere. Not that, of course, these wings don’t make me think in a major way that there might be something funky going on, but still, the whole government out to get us? I mean—
A hand grabs my shoulder mid-thought.
I whip around, my wings rippling over my spine like running water. They go liquid in a glittering orange-pink waterfall around me. A splatter flickers outward, pelting the individual before me in the face just as he opens his mouth to speak.
“Oh, freak! Jace! What the—?”
My wings sprayed him with something!
I dance around him, wanting to touch him but afraid to. He’s not moving. “Oh, freak! Does it burn? Is it acid? Jace! What in the world? I didn’t have the chance to stop it!” Just like Cascade, my wings simply reacted.
“Jace? Please tell me you’re not dying. Oh, freak, did it eat away your vocal chords?”
I grab his shirt and yank it up, exposing his skinny midriff and scrubbing at his face to get the pink goop off. It leaves a pink iridescent smear on his white tee, orangey in the streetlight. I force myself to stand still, the shirt poised and waiting. “Jace?”
Yes! That’s promising.
He works his jaw side to side.
Prelude to speech?
He looks half amused. “I’m still alive. Vocal chords operating at normal levels.”
I fight the urge to do something stupid like throw my arms around him in relief.
“It doesn’t hurt. It…” Making a strange face, he swallows. “It tastes vaguely like icing.”
“What in the… don’t swallow it!” I smack my forehead with my palm.
“Too late.” He manages a weak grin. “I hope ingesting it won’t kill me.”
“I’m sorry. I—I don’t know what else to say. Why did you open your mouth?”
“That’s generally what people do when they’re about to speak.” Pausing, he cocks an eyebrow and eyes my fist still clutching the hem of his shirt. “Are you enjoying the view of my, uh… ripped torso?”
I snatch my fingers back and his t-shirt slides back down. I should step away, but I’m still afraid he might spontaneously croak, so I hover close under the illusion that my magical proximity will somehow prevent his inevitable collapse.
He fiddles with the glittery hem of his tee-shirt, the wisp of a smile crooking his lips. “What’s it supposed to be, do you think? Glamor gel? Am I going to wake up tomorrow morning a ballerina teddy bear, all pink tutu and sparkly tiara?”
I’m still so relieved that he’s alive that I squeak out a laugh. “Ha, ha, very funny.” I dig my fingernails into my palms, though.
It’s alright. He’s okay.
But what the freak did my wings just turn into?
Then, for the first time, I notice his split lip and a cut slanting over his left eyebrow, though they look like they’re fading away—but that’s ridiculous. “What happened to you?” I ask. “And what are you doing here?”
Shoving his hands in his pocket, he hunches his shoulders. The pale blue feathers of his wings seem dusted with gold glitter in the lamplight, gleaming with every nervous shuffle of his feet.
And my wings are going toasty-warm as I watch him, as if they’re eyeballing his wings and remembering. Especially as his fan outward slightly, some feathers glinting like ice.
He gives another barely-there smile. “Just making sure you get home alright. Some idiots saw me with you this afternoon and knew you were with the NAT News and thought roughing me up a bit would send a message of what you should get your stepdad to tell the rest of the city. The cagers took a tad longer to intrude than I would have liked.” His eyes slide around as if looking for threats, but hardly anyone’s left in the business part of the city after work ops ends, at least not on this block. “I don’t see anyone here now, but still…”
He trails off and gapes like a guppy, his eyes focusing on a point over my shoulder and widening—and they aren’t stopping.
“Who is this, Anza girl?” Ted halts beside me and looms over us with admirable aplomb. A lamp behind him throws his shadow over Jace, reminding me of a cartoon where a towering monster’s shadow covers the tiny, quaking hero.
I gesture. “Ted, this is Jace, a friend from school. Jace, this is my stepfather Ted.”
“A friend, you say?” Ted smiles, rather like a lethal predator baring its incisors in a game called Just-give-me-a-reason-to-eat-you. “Come shake my hand, my boy.”
Jace casts me a slightly desperate glance as if asking where I get my relatives, then extends his hand as if he’s never going to see it again.
Ted grabs the proffered appendage in a firm grip that, judging by the growing alarm in Jace’s eyes, grows rapidly firmer with each passing second. “What’re you here for, Jace?”
Jace tries to laugh. “I just wanted to make sure Anza got home safe, but damn.” His gaze swipes up and down Ted’s uber-impressive physique, a head taller than Jace’s own six-foot-something frame. “Now I feel as useless as someone’s eleventh finger.”
I strangle a little in the back of my throat. “Eleventh finger? Can we rewind time so I pretend you didn’t just say that?”
“An eleventh finger could be useful, Anza girl.” Ted generously lets Jace go with his hand still intact and slaps him on the back, knocking him forward a few steps. “Walk with us, my boy.”
Jace catches his balance, his entire demeanor lighting up—and then dimming as Ted wedges himself between us.
“Ah, my sweets.” Eyeing both Jace and me with the amused, indulgent look of a lord over his peons, Ted leads us in grand pomp across a piazza of bug-besieged streetlights, with the fountain plashing in the background. He gestures at Jace’s wings. “Tell me, where you going to go first once these things are operational? You thought about that yet?”
Jace slides me a glance as we cross the traffic-less street. “Well…” We fall into step along the deserted sidewalk of one of the avenues branching off the plaza. He glances at the closed shops around us for a moment, doors gated and window displays shuttered, then grips the back of his neck and looks back at us. “I, ah, saw this painting once of the fiberglass forests from above. It was all white radiance in moonlight, like the enchanted wood of some fantasy realm, and it was so lovely I decided if I ever got the chance—if they ever let us close enough to it without it registering on our wristband as an infraction—I would fly up to the cage and look out to see the actual fiberglass forests below Haven.”
I clamp my slack jaw shut. I would totally do the same if I could. I even did a painting of the forests once, too. A nocturnal tableau of a princess balanced on the jagged outcropping of a crag. Her gown of silver silk billowed out, aglow and rippling as she stretched her arms out over the luminescence of the white wood that spanned the breadth of the vale below her.
Ted eyes Jace up and down. “You’re a romantic then, are you?”
Jace flushes. “Not really. I’m not creative, just drawn to creative things. I can’t paint, write, or draw for crap, but when I see certain artwork or read prose loaded with imagery, they put dreams inside me and my life feels richer, full of texture. Vivid. And that painting gave me a dream that is achievable in real life, so if I ever get the chance to see the forests.… I’d take Anza with me.”
My feet lift off the ground at his words, my lungs light and fluffy and my feathers spread out, the whole after-hours world floating past in a graceful glide.
Gasping—I’m flying!—I smack back at my wings and thump back to the ground.
Jace gapes at me, and Ted raises his eyebrows. “Up to a little wing misdemeanor there, Anza girl?”
I scowl. At that precise moment, we pass a fancy office entrance just beyond Jace, over which hangs a huge Romance Office sign reading: ‘Save your breath for a relationship that will steal it’.
Now the universe is mocking me. Sending me messages like a stalker.
I am in no mood to be mocked, I tell it in a voice exuding displeased disdain.
Only, the universe doesn’t listen. In fact, it is the worst listener ever.
“I don’t have normal wings,” I inform Ted, puffing up my chest. “I got dysfunctional ones. They’re rebel ones. They flirt. They melt without permission, and they have a penchant for spraying some various random element at other people that apparently tastes like icing. Of course they would spontaneously decide to take flight at the mention of—” Jace taking me to see my own dreamscape.
Ted eyes me dubiously. “They don’t look very rebellious. They look kinda cute.”
“Don’t encourage them!” I jab him in the chest.
“Ow, ow, ow, not the finger!” Ted rumbles laughter. “Unless it’s an eleventh finger. Never been poked by an eleventh finger before.” This time he grins at Jace, who in my humble opinion just looks embarrassed that the eleventh finger comment ever passed his lips.
“Don’t encourage him, either,” I grump, relieved there’s no one around to hear us. Our footsteps thud hollowly between the black glass facades of the shops and restaurants on this strip, vacant and swallowing lamplight, equally dark floors reaching above them.
Ted bites his tongue at me—his version of sticking it out. “So, Anza girl, where would you go on your first winged excursion upward?”
“Hmm. Where?” I fold my arms across my chest. “Considering Jace already stole the best—” I shoot him a cantankerous reprimand in the flick of my lip “—I’d do the second best. Which means I would totally fly up to the top of the Viper—you know, just before the roller coaster hits that insane ten story drop—and I’d watch everyone’s eyes bug out and their jaws drop open the instant before they go over it.”
“Sounds like you,” Ted says dotingly. “You’d probably yell after them ‘Looking good!’ as their puke pelts the air behind them.”
“You know me so well.”
As we turn the corner onto Hazard Way, its soured-urine, old-trash smell oozes out around us. The street lamps here have snuffed out entirely, the only light illuminating the refuse-littered alley being remnants of it spilling from the street behind us.
A cluster of young men mills around one of the darkened building entrances, their shoulders hunched and their heads down, black leather jacket collars folded up around their ears. Grayish wings extend from the shadows behind them.
My footsteps falter and Jace and Ted stop walking completely. Ted catches my elbow. Crumpled trash rustles around our feet in fitful eddies.
The men trickle down the steps.
Ted pushes me and Jace behind him. “Jace, get her out of here.”
“Come on, Anza.” Jace gropes for my hand.
I yank it away from him. “We can’t leave Ted here alone. Ted…”
“Get out of here,” Ted snarls over his shoulder. “I’m right behind you.” He starts backing toward us.
Jace grabs my hand, and this time I let him drag me backward. Both of us stumble over the concrete, my heel crunching a discarded plastic utensil, smashing a foamy cup, leaving minor destruction in our wake.
Then his palm on mine goes cold and clammy. He’s looking over his shoulder. “Crap.” He stops walking.
More winged figures emerge from the shadows behind us, blocking off the mouth of the alleyway. They spread out on a backdrop of ramshackle doorways.
Completely surrounding us.
Scene 4 – Mr. Broccoli (the Tree)
* Scene context: Anza and Jace come out of her apartment building in the morning (he had to spend the night at her place because reasons) and there is a huge tree outside (trees haven’t grown in their country for years). Anza’s amazed by it.
I step over a solar panel flipped belly-up near my feet and venture forward, marvelously dizzy, my head tilted back under the boughs of alien leaves.
Inhaling deeply, I close my eyes to savor the moment.
“I know,” Jace breathes by my side. “It looks like Mr. Broccoli.”
My eyelids shoot open like a popped balloon. “What?”
Captain Oblivious motions upward. “You remember. Tall broccoli-stalk dude. Scary as crap. Came on every evening at seven pm to terrify children into eating our vitamins before they ate us—”
“I know who Mr. Broccoli is. I just can’t believe you’re comparing my mom’s ancient wonder to a psychotic vegetable.”
“It wasn’t psychotic. It was concerned.”
“It chomped on kids who spurned their veggies!”
“It taught good habits for those spurnful kids.”
“Using negative reinforcement! Eat the vits or face the fronds.”
“For a good cause.”
I cut myself off before perpetuating the insanity too far. “I can’t believe you’re defending him. You’re not who I thought you were. My whole life is a lie.”
Jace twinkles his eyes at me, then turns away, covering his mouth as I register that the turd is just… urgh.
I tip my head back at the tree again, regaining my dignity. “How do you think it feels? Like, to touch?” I gauge the distance, calculating. “If I jumped…”
“No, you can’t!” Jace flits in front of me, suddenly all handsome apprehension and fluttering wings. “Your wristband’ll—”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Biting my lip, I glance back at the feathers over my shoulder, tinted a greenish rainbow-y pink in the shadows.
They wink their glittery bad influence right back at me. Do it, they urge, the wicked things. We can fly you up—
“Don’t try it,” Jace seems to reprimand both of us at once, but directs his glare straight at my wings. “Here. This is safer.” Crouching down in front of me, he locks his arms around my thighs.
“What—” I begin.
He hefts me up, my hair fanning over my cheek, my mouth emitting a delicate squeak, and my hands flying to his shoulders for balance. Then my butt is propped on his forearms, my thighs against his chest, and my feet dangle in the air between his legs. His shoulder muscles go taut under my hesitant grip, his pretty face turning up toward me where he’s lifted me above the muted buzz of voices below.
Reality assumes a dreamlike slant, weightless and untouched. Leaves rustle overhead, full of velvety secrets in the luminous air. His gold-dusted ice feathers shimmer in close proximity to my hands, tinged the hue of the tree’s hazy green shade…
My hand stretches out of its own volition, my fingertips alighting on satiny vanes. Their softness curls around my fingers, brushing the pad of my thumb over their vulnerable centers. Jace’s chest hitches in a discordant rhythm against my thighs, but my own breath is bated, lost in this dreamscape world where I fondle his feathers and they adoringly reciprocate.
A shudder travels through him, freezing my fingertips mid-stroke. “Jace?”
His eyes are shut, a devastated expression shaping his features.
I yank my hand back. “Crap. Are you alright? Did I hurt you?”
His eyes labor open, and for an instant he seems to reorient himself in reality, his dilated pupils contracting and his parted lips pressing together. His mustered attempt at a smile fails. “Hardly. That wasn’t pain. When you touched them, it…” He flips his hair back, adopting a sheepish smile. “I thought I might explode. It didn’t hurt.”
“Okay.” My fingers drift back toward his—
“But maybe you shouldn’t do it again,” Jace rushes on, his voice hoarse and not quite steady. “Unless you want to reduce me to a heap of blubbering goo at your feet.”
Blubbering goo, I think. Blubbering goo is not a good thing.
Scene 5 – Learning to Fly
* Scene context: Anza and Jace are at school again and in a wing-flying class. Anza’s not having an easy time of getting her wings to cooperate.
Okay. Let’s try this again.
I push my shoulders back and—whoosh—flip facedown. I fling my arms out, only I’m not falling. I sag there like a kitten from its mother’s jaws, in a face-off with the mat a meter and a half below. “Hey, mat,” I greet it. “Nice to—”
I splatter down, limbs sprawling, my palms and knees colliding with padding. My chin smacks the plastic and my jaw clacks shut.
Ornery-should-be-amputated-freak-fairy-princess wings. They’d dumped me! Do they think they’re doing their duty to me just by being decorative?
“Hey,” someone says above me.
I flop over onto my back.
Dork Jace is hovering over me, his frosted-glass feathers flapping gently above him, shimmering as if strewn with snow crystals like some kind of snow princess. “Are you okay?”
“Be gone, paragon of perfection!” I moan, covering my face. “And leave us lowly incompetents to be wing-smashed in peace.”
“Ha ha, that’s really funny!” peeps Hattie, swinging in from nowhere and then swinging back into nowhere.
“Come on, Anza, don’t you want to fly?” Jace capers around me in fluttery circles. “I’m so pretty,” he sings, kicking his legs up mid-air, “oh, so pretty! I’m so pretty and witty and…” He dissolves into laughter at my look.
I debate whether I can manage a wing-spurt and ram into his nethers.
I push myself up and dive into another attempt.
Seconds later, my legs do their ‘dude, why am I dangling’ spiel again, and then—I’m stumped. I just levitate like a loser with draggly legs.
Jace swoops over. “Hey, there.”
“Hey,” I say.
“You gonna lounge here all day?”
“Here.” He reaches out his hands and I stare at them, waiting for him to give me a reason.
“You’re thinking too much about it,” he says. “Take my hands. I promise I won’t let you fall.”
“You think your skinny ass is going to keep me from falling?”
He grins. “My skinny ass is almost a head taller than you. Come on, Anza. I want to fly with you.”
I let myself be persuaded, sliding my hands into his.
Jace’s warm gaze meets mine. “Perfect,” he says.
A burst of excitement shoots through my wings and boosts us upward.
Jace chuckles. “Even better.”
He tugs me about four or five meters above the mats. There we hang suspended, and because I don’t like my feet dangling like duds, I tread air a bit. My wings extend to either side, a sparkly pink mirror to Jace’s icy pale blue ones. A faint pressure tautens my entire back.
“Oh, wait, hold on a sec,” Jace says. “Got an itch.” His hands slide away from mine and he scratches the back of his neck, watching me expectantly.
I don’t know what I’m supposed to expect. “What?”
He looks down at my hands. I look down at my hands and—
He’s no longer holding me up!
“I’m flying!” I laugh, unable to help it. I’m floating on my own wings, and they’re totally awesome! Go, fairy-pink freak things! Ha! Ha! I kick here; I kick there. I flutter sideways. Take that! Now the other way, hair swishing. Ha!
It is intuitive. The merest flick of a shoulder and I’m spinning in a circle, like a pirouette.
Jace copies the movement, laughing. He looks like an awkward, happy ballerina out of costume. Beyond him, other kids are racing one another.
“Let’s race!” I cry.
Without waiting for him, I launch forward. My legs kick back at nothing, but my wings swoop in powerful strokes over my shoulders. Their air currents whip past my ears. The gym with its mats and instructors lurches past below.
Jace lets out a whoop in commencing pursuit, and suddenly we’re diving; we’re soaring. We veer close to the rafters and play tag with the dusty metal, our fingers coming away coated powdery gray. I dodge and swerve and his laughter rides right on my heels.
Then I forget and go backward—
The air falls out from underneath me, my wings deflated.
My fists grasp nothing. I plummet as Jace lunges. He clutches my elbows and we plunge a few whistling meters, his wings whipping out their full wingspan.
We jolt to a halt and our knees bang together and entangle, my feet hooking in his. My hands grasp his shoulders; his lock around my waist, our ragged panic meeting where our hips do. We’re so close I see his blue irises like slivers of ice going hazy with heat. I feel the thrum of life under his skin. Feel his mouth nearly on mine. My next inhalation practically comes from his lips.
“Jace Slocum and Anzaria Soleil!” Mrs. Jones’s megaphone crackles right below us.
We reel apart, any onlookers around us gawking.
Hattie chortles from a few meters away. “Naughty, naughty!” she calls.
“Class will begin in ten minutes,” Mrs. Jones announces. “Last chance to get refreshment in the cafeteria!”
Jace reappears by my side, his blue eyes casting sparkly vibes in my direction. “Hey, Anza. Want food?”
My eyes cast sparkly vibes back. “Want food immediately.”
In tacit agreement, we both descend. The gymnasium has emptied out, only a few stragglers left, one of them weeping prostrate at Mr. Belkes’ feet.
“You’re thinking about it too much!” Mr. Belkes tugs on his beard. “It’s intuitive. Just…”
Without Jace, that probably would have been me.
* * *
Believe it or not, that isn’t even halfway through the book! It was so much freaking fun to write! They’re my sweetest characters ever, Anza and Jace. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the little bits into their lives! And have a wondrous new year!