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Her Wings Had Fallen Off
His wings had fallen off. It started slowly, a couple of feathers falling off in the wind, floating away in carefree spirals. Then in clumps in the shower, matted wet and clogging the drain, until one day he woke up laying in the quills that annoyingly snagged on the sheets.
Now he sat in the Sad Café, shoulders slumped forward because of the missing weight he was used to on his back, staring into a cup of hot cocoa. It looked like someone had smeared blue war paint under his eyes, like the sky when it's bruised and about to burst with thunder and rain. He slouched in his chair until his eyes were nearly level with the table and wished this was a world where sex wasn't a weapon. He cracked his knuckles, nitrogen bubbles popping under the skin between the joints.
When he saw her alone on the worn loveseat in the darkest corner, bent over a green cloth journal with a broken binding, furiously scribbling and sketching, he wanted to go to her. He wanted to see what she was writing, to know what was in her cup. He wanted to hear her name and whisper it back to her. But she came to him first.
She had seen the boy with the green eyes turned down at the corners, eyes like the Afghan girl on the cover of National Geographic a few years back. She wondered if he was haunted and why his shoulders were slumped forward. So she invited herself to his table and sat down as he smiled from under his shaggy brown hair.
"How’s it goin’, My-Secret-Agent-Lover-Man?"
His cheeks blushed red and he explained he wasn't a secret agent, wasn't anyone's lover, and wasn't even sure if he was as much man as boy. She noted his broad shoulders, big hands, whiskered chin, how his voice came from deep inside his throat, and gave him a lopsided smile. If he wasn't a man yet, he was well on his way.
"What does a sad-eyed boy with slumped shoulders go by, then?"
"Angel," he said, and saw the girl look surprised, then pleased.
"Are you Spanish?"
"Spanish…not so much. I don't know what I am," he replied sadly, and with more truth than she could ever realize. He drooped deeper into his seat until the table obstructed all views of his face. She bent under the table.
"It's okay. Lots of people don't know what they are. The important part thing is, you are looking." He was only slightly comforted – he didn't know anyone else who had two red scabs where wings were supposed to be.
"Do you play?" she asked, noticing the basketball at his feet and thinking a change of subject could bring him out from under the table. Even with the shadows distorting the contours of his face, she could make out his timid smile and eager nod. "Well then, let's go!"
One of the most beautiful things about the city is you can get just about anywhere with a train and your very own two feet. They quickly found themselves at the sizzling asphalt court. It smelled like rubber, beer and sweat. The both of them rigorously played. To outsiders, they could have been related, brother and sister, with their matching baggy-boy pants and high cheekbones, with their skater sneaks and full lips. When she ran circles around him, she felt like a whole pack of wolves in one little body, and, as he hung from the rim, he remembered flying.
When their backs and underarms were saturated and both were short of breath they retreated to Saint So-and-So's Church. The stained glass blocked the sun and promised relief from the heat. They lay on the cold grey stone under the pews. He tried to explain agape love to her, how it was so complete, so untainted, so pure, but she couldn't understand the idea.
"Angel," she said, "I've known plenty of princes who have turned into frogs, but I've never known a frog to turn into a prince."
He wondered how many times she had been hurt by guys. He wanted to prove that love didn't have to equal pain. Maybe he couldn't give her allow her to experience the brother-like feeling of agape love, but he could try. He could make her her own little heaven on Earth. But he remembered his halo, rusted and bent under his bed, and felt a numb, fuzzy pain behind his eyes. She kissed his forehead, a deranged blessing, an attempt to smooth the creases his eyebrows made when they pushed together with worry and want. A spit-and-lips baptism underneath the pews.
When someone began to practice the organ, she stood and swayed slowly, hands above her head, hips twisting to the tired hymns.
"I want to show you something," he said, taking her hand.
In his room, she sat on a volume of encyclopedias and listened to him play his guitar. He sang, quietly at first and then louder and louder until the veins in his neck stood out. At the end of the song, she smiled and clapped, but he just looked tired.
"I used to play the harp," he told his feet.
She giggled, "Did your dad make you?"
"Something like that," he sighed.
"Well, you have a beautiful voice. Really, it's just amazing. You should do something with it, you know, get a record deal or something."
"You really think so?" he asked, perking up, eyes wide but insecurity saturating his tone.
"Yes! I really, really do," she said confidently.
Angel looked at the girl on his encyclopedias. Her smile was warm and tolerant, but not ignorant. Her words gave him an unusual sense of peace. He went to his closet and pulled out a brown paper bag full of white feathers. Dropping it at her feet he said, "Maybe you can be my new wings."
"You can't love anyone until you learn to love yourself,"' she said sincerely, almost sadly. Because she wanted to love this Angel boy, with his hot cocoa, basketball, churches and guitars, but how could she? Frogs never turn into princes, and princes almost always turn into frogs.
At his door, he hugged her and whispered, "What's your name?"
Pulling him away she said, "You have to learn to be your own wings," and left.
Two years later there was a song on the radio about a girl who could dance in churches and play basketball with the boys. Angel traveled the world with that song, and others like it on his album, as he gained popularity. And while signing glossy photos during an appearance in a small record store back in his favorite city, he saw her. Now more like a woman than a girl, she waited in line with everyone else. He had her pulled to the front, where she dropped a CD booklet in front of him, leaned forward and whispered close to his ear so her lips brushed against his skin, "Make it out to Jackie."
"Jackie," he repeated, trying it out on his tongue. He told the manager he was taking a break and pulled her into a backroom.
"I told you," she teased, but he just stared at his feet.
"I don't have my wings back," he confessed, removing his shirt and showing her the scars. She touched them gently, as though they might still hurt, and kissed his shoulders.
"You have your wings, they are here now," she explained, touching his chest where his heart pumped, where the songs first lived, where she would rest her head that night as she fell asleep.