Sitting in the kitchen later that evening, Juliet’s mind was reeling. She didn’t dare ask Elena what all of that was about – the only thing she could get out of her mother, who was sitting dejectedly on the couch, was that she’d decided not to cook dinner and that Juliet was on her own. Juliet shook her head slowly as she poured a bowl of cereal for dinner.
Many of the words Hayle had shouted wrenched odd feelings deep in Juliet’s heart: Gabriel, Eldias, wanderlust, and most importantly, Ayephim. That last word had thrown strange images into view, the last memory of her father in a different sense – the shadow behind the purple light was not the same build as her father, and another piece had come to mind, which was black leather.
Juliet started as the phone rang, spilling milk across the table. Grabbing a pile of napkins in one hand and the phone in the other, she answered as she mopped up the mess.
“Hello, Montgomery residence.”
“Juliet?” questioned an unwelcome familiar voice.
It took Juliet a moment to calm down before speaking. “How did you get this number?”
“It’s called a phone book.”
“What do you want?”
“I want to talk. Is that so bad?” Nigel asked.
Juliet sat down heavily in the kitchen chair, dropping the soggy napkins before hanging her head in her hand. “No, I suppose not.”
“Look, about what happened earlier today…”
“Just forget about it, won’t you? It’s no big deal. My life is full of things like that. Don’t cry over spilled milk.” She smiled bitterly as she stared at the mass of wet napkin on the table.
“I can’t. Especially when you say things like that, Juls.”
“I hate that nickname.”
“Too bad,” said Nigel smoothly. “That’s my name for you, so get over it.”
She sighed. “If you want to talk, then get to the talking. My cereal is slowly becoming food for my trashcan.”
“Cereal?” he questioned skeptically.
“Do you frown upon my dinner preferences?”
There was a quiet laugh from over the phone. “No, of course not. If you want to go eat, I can call back later.”
“Why not hang up, let me eat, and not call back at all?”
“I can’t, Juls. It’s too important. When you tell me that your life is full of ‘things like that’, by which I assume circumstances that you can’t make sense of, I want to help you.”
“How on earth could you help me?”
Nigel was quiet for a moment, and then, “You were right. Earlier, I mean. I haven’t figured you out.”
Juliet said nothing.
“But I want to,” he continued. “The things you’ve said, your paper, the way you react when I try to figure you out – you’re running away from yourself, Juliet. Stop running and let me help you figure this out. I want to help you.”
“That’s great and all, but I have more pressing matters on my hands.”
And with that, Juliet hung up the phone. She slammed the cordless receiver down on the table and stirred her cereal, fuming. Shoving her chair back, Juliet got up again and dumped the entire bowl in the sink.
“I’m going to bed,” she called to her mother before slumping up the stairs.
The next morning, Juliet came downstairs to find that Hayle had returned. “Morning,” Juliet grumbled, still half-asleep and making a determined line for the coffee.
“Hello, Juliet. I’m sorry I left so suddenly yesterday evening. I had some important business to attend to.”
Juliet grunted her reply. She poured her coffee and grabbed a Poptart from out of a cabinet. Hayle watched her curiously.
“And what does that mean?”
Juliet looked at her from the corner of her eye, but decided not to think anything of it. “’S a breakfast pastry. You microwave it for a few seconds until it gets warm and gooey and then you eat it.”
Hayle watched her intently as she put the Poptart into the microwave and hit start. The appliance lit up and began to whir. At that moment, Hayle shouted, “Get down!” and thrust her right hand forward.
The microwave exploded.
Elena and Juliet screamed, ducking behind the island as Hayle stood, watching the microwave fiercely. The smoke detector started wailing as the black smoke billowed out from the gap between the two cabinets where the microwave used to be. Elena finally straightened up and opened both windows and the back door, turning on the ceiling fan. When the smoke cleared, all that was left of the sleek, black microwave was a faint layer of melted plastic still fastened to the cabinets.
“What the hell was that?” Elena demanded.
“That thing was about to kill her!”
Juliet slowly rose up from behind the counter, staring incredulously at Hayle.
“You blew up my breakfast!”
“It was better than it blowing up your face!”
Elena ran her fingers through her hair, shaking her head. “Hayle…”
Juliet picked up her coffee mug, snorting with laughter and sidled past Hayle into the living room, listening as Hayle continued to question what it was she had done wrong.
The school day was the complete opposite as the previous day had been. Instead of Nigel going through great lengths to avoid Juliet, she was now avoiding him. Each time she spotted him in the hallway, she was torn – while she wanted nothing to do with him, she also couldn’t help feeling desperate to know what was going on.
She went through the entire day debating whether or not to talk to him, and ended up successfully dodging him. Juliet sighed with relief when she pushed open the side door without being confronted by him. She decided it was for the best that she hadn’t had to deal with him, until she drew close to her car. He was there, lying comfortably on the hood, reading a book.
“Long time no see,” he said when she approached.
“Get off my car, you creep.”
Nigel compromised by setting his book down on his chest but didn’t move, staring up at the blue sky as he tucked his arms behind his head. “I’ve got a question for you, Juls.”
She narrowed her eyes. “How many times have I told you that I don’t want you to call me by that name?”
“I do believe this is the second.”
“Knock it off.”
He turned to look at her. “Does the word ‘Ayephim’ mean anything to you?”
Juliet started, unable to hide the shock that flashed across her face.
“You’ve heard it before, I take it?”
She didn’t answer. Nigel finally leapt off the hood of her bug with grace that Juliet hadn’t seen before. When did he learn how to move so lightly in the air like that?
“Do you know what it means?”
“No,” she finally replied, truthfully. “The first time I ever heard it was last night. My mother was having an argument with someone. The person she was arguing with referred to me with it.”
He stared at her, eyes wide. “What’s this person’s name?”
“What does she look like?” He asked shakily.
“She looks like she’s straight out of a comic book. She’s got one blue eye and one gold eye, blue and gold hair, a gold dress…”
“It can’t be…”
Nigel finally looked up at her. “You’re an Ayephim.”
“I was basically told as much, yes.”
“And you don’t know that you’re an Ayephim,” he continued, obviously disconcerted.
“Are you all right, Nigel?”
He shook his head slowly. He looked as if he were about to faint.
Juliet waved a hand in front of his face. “Hello? Earth to Nigel? Come in, Nigel.”
“Get in your car and go home. Tell Hayle… tell Hayle that Evangeline’s son knows exactly why she’s here.”
“What? I’m so confused. Tell me what the hell is going on, won’t you? You were all set on helping me last night.”
“Yeah,” he said, finally regaining his usual sense of humor. “That was before you ditched me for a bowl of soggy cereal.”
“Let me make sure I have this right, then. You finally know what’s going on with me, and now that you know, you’re not even going to explain it to me.”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“You’re a jerk.”
“And you’re an Ayephim,” he said quietly.
“What the hell does that even mean?”
“I’m hoping you’ll figure that for yourself. Go home, Juliet. Deliver that message for me.” He rifled through his bag and pulled out a ragged scrap of paper and a pencil. He jotted down a phone number. “Call me tonight.”
“I – fine,” she huffed, surrendering and accepting the paper. “Fine, I’ll go home, I’ll deliver your stupid message, and continue to be kept in the dark.”
Nigel replied, still distracted. “Good, you do that.”
Juliet got in her car and for a moment, the usual thought of running him over passed through her mind. Shaking her head, she pulled out of her parking space and headed home.
Getting out of the car, Juliet looked over the house. It appeared deserted from the outside – she assumed that Hayle and Elena were probably out shopping for a new microwave. She took her time when she went inside, getting a snack to eat while doing her homework.
Once upstairs, Juliet juggled her bag and plate of peanut butter crackers as she opened the door. She walked straight into the room without looking around, setting her snack on the desk and her school bag on her desk chair. Only when she turned around to get one of her textbooks from her bedside table did she realize she wasn’t alone.
Hayle was sitting on her bed, holding her physics book, apparently waiting for her for a while. All around her on the mattress were Juliet’s new sketches and notes about Eldias that she had created last night while trying to sleep.
“Did you make all of these?” Hayle asked calmly, as if sitting in someone’s bedroom unannounced was a normal thing to do.
“Y-yes,” Juliet stuttered.
“Where did you find out about Eldias?”
“My mother keeps a small wooden chest under her bed full of books and other things about it. I’ve been kind of obsessed with it recently,” she admitted.
Hayle handed Juliet the textbook and picked up the closest sketch to her – a detailed map of the inner streets of Taln. “It’s unfair of her to keep it from you. I know you were listening yesterday night, Julietrielle. I know what you heard confused me. You must be wishing you had someone to talk to about it.”
“I’m not, actually,” she replied. “I’ve already got someone on my back about it all the time and I don’t need another one.”
Hayle’s brow wrinkled. “I’m sure you’re not talking about your mother.”
“Of course not. There’s this boy at my school who seems to know a lot about it. When I mentioned to him that you were here, he told me to bring you a message.”
“Why didn’t you say that in the first place? Tell me this instant.”
“He told me to inform you that he knows exactly why you’re here. He wanted me to tell you that ‘Evangeline’s son’ knows.”
The pile of sketches in Hayle’s hands fluttered to the floor. She stared blankly at Juliet and said, “I’d love to stay and explain everything to you, Julietrielle, but I have something I need to go investigate.”
Before Juliet could protest, Hayle had left, but not through the door. She had leapt out of Juliet’s window. Juliet rushed over and stuck her head out, expecting to see Hayle sprawled in the unkempt grass, but there was no one to be seen. Shaking her head, she fished the small paper with Nigel’s number out of her pocket and picked up the phone.
Nigel answered on the second ring. “Juliet?”
“If I’d been anyone else, whoever it was would have found that rude.”
She could hear his quiet laughter. “I have Caller ID, Juls.”
“Stalker,” she muttered.
“Anyway,” Nigel continued, “did you deliver my message?”
“Yes master. I have delivered the message. And instead of killing a messenger, she has gone off and killed herself?”
“Excuse me?” said Nigel, very alarmed.
She laughed. “Well, it’s kind of weird to explain, but basically I told her what you said and she leapt out of my window. If she died, her corpse isn’t under my window.”
“She’s not dead.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Nigel didn’t answer. Juliet sighed.
“So are you ever going to tell me what the hell an Ayephim is?”
“Not if Hayle didn’t tell you. Did she say anything when she jumped out of your window?”
“She said something about needing to investigate. I’m not quite sure where she’s gone to, since she’s obviously not dead.” She narrowed her eyes, wishing she could throttle the answer out of him.
“That’s not very encouraging… tell me, have you seen any strange birds outside of your window recently?”
“Never mind. You’d understand what I was talking about if you had. That means she must have gone to Eldias.”
“How can you be sure this Eldias place is real?”
He laughed bitterly. “There’s so much you don’t know, Juliet.” It sounded as if he were about to hang up.
“Wait,” said Juliet suddenly, surprising even herself. The faint sound of Nigel’s breathing returned.
“What is it?”
“You haven’t been yourself lately.”
He said nothing.
“You haven’t been following me around in the halls and trying to sit with me at lunch and everything, and I think I’m right in saying that whatever this is that’s going on is the cause.”
“You would be correct,” he replied dryly.
“I don’t think it’s fair that you can hold something that I don’t know about against me.”
There was a moments silence and then, “I thought you hated having me around.”
“It’s better than not having anyone around.”
“So what are you trying to say here, Juls? I’ve got homework.”
She gritted her teeth. “Do you think that, maybe, tomorrow we can pretend like all this craziness isn’t happening? Pick up the old routine.”
“If I say yes, will you let me go do my calculus?”
“I suppose,” she answered, grinning at the smile in his voice.
“Then, yes.” The line went dead.