I swear that I'm way smarter than people make me out to be. Honestly, who else than a clever person could shake off my mother with minimum suspicious questions? I played it the way it works best around her, with a lot of indifference that annoys her so much that she stalks off and tells me to "think about it." I don't know anything about Romulus anyway, except maybe about his cronies, so there isn't much for her to look forward to. I could tell her about the phone, but there's a niggling feeling inside me telling me not to.
I see my mother climb into a booked taxi through the office window, and not long after that, I notice Claire wander off with her dad. I'm alone, and now I leave Halo in the safe hands of our manager, Phil. He walks in shaking, with pupils so wide that I know he's taken his substantial dose of coffee. I swear he takes that stuff in the vein. I'm happy to get home, though it's empty. I have no idea where Dad is, I guess his girlfriend's place - a woman only a couple years older than me.
Don't get me started.
I'm starting to feel the aftermath of another turbulent night out. I feel like there's somebody rubbing sandpaper against my throat, and the blood pumps in my head so loudly that I barely hear my keys drop on the floor of the marble lobby. I do what I always do on a night like this: head straight for the fridge. The white light dazzles me as I grab a packet of sliced cheese and munch it down. I can't get the pain in my throat to go away, so scoop a tumbler from the drying rack and turn the tap.
There isn't even a drop of water. "What the -,"
There's a high-pitched grating noise, the breakfast table chair moving, and I whirl around. My eyes widen to see somebody sitting at my table, a man judging by the build, though the rest of him is obscured by a hooded cloak that reminds me of somebody in a monastery. In front of him is a tall glass of water, which suddenly looks very delectable.
"Good evening, Alex," he says, sounding contemptuous. Moonlight shines against him from the kitchen window, lighting his smiling jaw.
"How the hell did you get into my house?"
"Why should that matter? I'm here now,"
"You realise that my father's fitted an alarm system. I activate it, the cops get here in minutes."
He chuckles. "Human police do not concern me."
Human? Suddenly, a tingling runs up my back, and as I roll my shoulders, I realise what, and who, I'm in the kitchen with. Play it cool.
I smirk, crossing my arms and leaning against the counter. "My mother's been asking a lot about you, Romulus."
He straightens a little, indignant more than fearful. "The council of angels is of no concern to me. And neither is your mother."
"You haven't seen her on a Monday," I murmur. He gestures for me to sit, and I oblige, figuring that I'll topple over anyway by the amount of alcohol in my bloodstream. I plop down opposite the ominous Romulus, trying not to look at the glass of water that my throat screams for.
"You have been called to the rebellion, Alex Althwaite. But to do so, there is a test you must pass."
I suspire with aggravation. I'm really not in the mood for cryptics. "Which is?"
"Resistance," he says. "If you can resist your body's need by morning, consider yourself...successful,"
"Why would you want me for this rebellion? Not that I wouldn't love sticking up the finger to my mother and the council, but I'm not exactly skilled, in case you didn't notice."
"I think you'll find you have potential beyond all that you can imagine." The words hit me like I don't expect them to. For just a moment, I think, really?
As I look down at my hands self-consciously, I hear Romulus say, "your test begins now." When I look up, the chair opposite me is clear, and it's just me. I sit in silence until -
The doors to the hallway and living room slam shut, locking me in. I rise and try them, they won't budge, not even when I slam into them like Dave taught me. No use.
Shit. I know some angels have powers, but really?
I back up, trying the window, but it's triple-glazed and there's no way I can crack it. Curse Dad for being so paranoid about thieves. I turn around and see the glass on the table. My throat itches again, and I realise what the test is.
Why water? What happens if I drink it? Carefully, I take the glass, using Dave's lessons at detecting spiked and brought-in drinks. There's a smell, telling me that it's not just water.
"Poison," I murmur. Slowly, I tip it, but I look on in amazement as the water remains at the bottom like hardened glass, though when I dip my finger in, it's liquid. So I can't get rid of it, I know there's something wrong with it, and I swear I'm going to burn alive if I don't drink something.
I'm in for a long night.
* * *
I open my eyes in the morning with a terrible creak in my neck. I'm slumped on the floor, my head bent against the sink cabinet. I feel like death warmed up, my head beating like a drum. Before I can discount it as a dream, I remember the previous night. I remember pacing around the room, trying at intervals to run the tap, get out of the room, all whilst getting thoroughly pissed off that a renegade angel has made me a prisoner in my own home.
Wait...did I fail?
I look up frantically, wondering if, in some delirium, I gave up, and poison now pumps in my system. The glass is there, in the centre of the breakfast table; full.
I breath a huge sigh of relief, pulling myself up and turning on the tap. Water runs in a clear, glorious stream, and I throw my head underneath, gulping it down whilst celebrating what I can only think is a triumph. Only after I've drunk my fill do I look and see a note placed beneath the glass, written with arrogant, cursive words: