“You’re learning fast,” said Clark. “You’re quick and you have perfect balance.”
“Thanks,” said Annie, gratefully. “You’re a good teacher.”
“You can call your sword now and that’s important but if things get bad, just make the angels disappear. You’re still new at this and you need to build up your practice hours so that you can think faster than the angel you’re fighting. The only way to do that is to practice…a lot. Fighting has to be second nature. You don’t think about what you’re doing, your body just knows what to do. Do you understand?”
“I do and I can see that I have a long way to go. Thank you for practicing with me.”
“As long as you remember that I’m not really trying to kill you. The angels you’ll be fighting won’t stop until you’re dead and they will use any moment that you’re off guard to take advantage of you.”
Annie called her sword, threw it across the room as hard as she could and watched it slice through the practice dummy and lodge deep into the wall.
“Nice,” said Clark, laughing. “When did you learn to do THAT?”
Annie shrugged. “I just thought I’d try it.”
“I have to go,” said Annie, racing up the stairs, through the kitchen, out the back door and down the fire escape. “STOP WHERE YOU ARE!” she shouted. “Those are my cats you’re trying to catch.”
“They’re feral and it’s our job to get them off the streets,” said a mean looking man in a brown uniform.
“They aren’t feral. I said they were MINE. Is there something wrong with your hearing?”
“No, I can hear you. I’m so sorry. It won’t happen again,” stuttered the man, dropping the noose.
“You have a nice day,” said the person who was climbing back into the driver’s seat. We won’t come here again, okay? Just forget you saw us,” he said, as the van took off down the alley.
“Annie,” said Lucifer, from the top of the fire escape. “Put your wings away, please.”
“What? My wings? They aren’t…” she said, looking over her shoulder. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t know.”
“No one will believe them, if they tell anyone what they saw, but you have to be more careful.”
“That’s never happened before,” she said, stubbornly. “I didn’t do it on purpose, they were scaring my cats.”
“You’ll be eighteen tomorrow. I think you’ll notice a lot of new things happening. Come up and have some cake. Tinsel will be here shortly.”
Annie tamped down her anger, took a deep breath, and turned toward the cats. “Minnow told me you were in trouble. If anyone tries to catch you, you have to run or hide and if I don’t sense that something’s wrong, send someone to get me.”
“Yes,” she sighed. “I know that’s what you did. I’m sorry. It’s just that I love all of you so much. A minute later she was buried in cats. They slid over her, mewing and purring and just rubbing against her. Their heartbeats in sync, made Annie feel as if she were flying. “Maybe you are the ones taking care of me and not the other way around,” she laughed.
“Annie?” called Clark. “Tinsel’s here.”
“Come on,” said Annie, trying to stand up. “Come up with me.”
The cats raced up the fire escaped and poured into the house. Some walked on the banister and others jumped through the kitchen window.
“Ah,” said Lucifer. “I see you’ve invited guests.”
“I love them.”
“That’s good enough for me,” he said smiling. “Please, my furry friends, make yourselves at home.”
“I’m a cat person,” said Tinsel. “Nice to meet you. I mean dogs are great, it’s just that they aren’t cats.”
“You’re the cutest person I’ve ever seen,” said Annie, staring her.
“Oh, sorry,” said Tinsel. “It’s the glamour. There, now you can see me for who I am.”
“There’s no change,” said Annie.
“There should be,” mumbled Tinsel, looking at her arms. “I’m part fairy, so I can look a lot of different ways.”
“Are you always adorable?” asked Annie, “Because you are pretty much perfect.”
“Let’s talk tattoos, shall we?”
“Sure,” said Annie.
“Definitely,” said Clark.
“Cluck,” said Adeline.
“No, I told you that chickens can’t get tattooed,” whispered Annie.
The bird held up her leg.
“No, not even on your leg.”
An hour later the design was finished. It was a magical twisting that would incorporate the cat and the dragon in a way that would keep Annie and Clark connected. They both loved it and couldn’t wait to have it on their skin.
“I think you should put it on your forearm,” said Tinsel, ‘picking up each of their arms. “Yes, definitely. The forearm. And how about you Lucifer? Do you want to make it a triple play?”
“No, but I appreciate the offer,” he said, bowing a little.
“Why not?” asked Annie.
“Because it would be dangerous for both of you if you always knew where I was.”
“But what if we get into trouble?” asked Annie.
“You have each other.”
“Okay,” said Clark.
“Okay,” said Annie. “But don’t complain if you need help but we can’t FIND you.”
“You have my word,” said Lucifer, trying desperately not to laugh out loud.
“Tomorrow at my shop. Seven minutes past seven,” said Tinsel. “An auspicious time for both of you,” she added. “I can draw on the hen’s leg with a marker, if you like.”
“Cluck,” said Adeline moving closer to her.
“I’ll hold her,” said Annie, picking up the bird.
“Stay still,” said Tinsel, drawing a tiny heart with stars around it on Adeline’s skinny leg.
“There,” said Tinsel. “Finished.”
Once on the floor the hen strutted back and forth, stopping only to look down at her own leg, which was almost impossible since she was a rather large bird in every way imaginable.
“Cake?” asked Clark.
“I would love some,” said Tinsel.
After everyone had two pieces of cake, with ice cream and sprinkles, Tinsel left.
“What’s happening to me?” asked Annie. “I’m angry all of a sudden. I wanted to hurt those men. Really hurt them. No one goes after cats while I’m in town.”
“I’ve been feeling different as well,” said Clark, softly. “I want to fight. I want to fly and I’m worried about things too.”
“It’s just your eighteenth birthdays,” said Lucifer. “Those things will only last for a couple of days and then you’ll…even out, You’ll be different but you won’t notice huge emotional swings and when your angry, hopefully your wings will stay behind you.”
“Annie threw her sword through the fighting dummy and into the wall,” said Clark. “She’s very strong.”
“You did what?” asked Lucifer. “Show me.”
So Annie did. Three times. Each time, the sword went deeper into the wall.