“PARKER PRESSED HER NOSE to the frosty glass. Her eyes stared down the frisky hummingbird darting about her terrace, then drifted back to her laptop and the experiment she was scheduled to present at school in the morning. It was the magic hour, just before dusk. The lampposts glowed as Central Park readied to settle into the hush of a quiet snowy evening ahead.
Outside, the daring bird torpedoed toward her face, rammed into the glass, then dashed away. Over the past several weeks, the same bird had been performing drop-ins, incessantly rapping at her window and disrupting her studies after school. Of all the windows in all the buildings across the city, how had the hummingbird found hers over and over again? And in the dead of winter! What did it want from her anyway?
Today, she’d had enough. Her inquisitive nature won. She grinned at the bird, crinkled her nose, knit her brows, and sent the corners of her mouth into their quizzical pattern. Could she get the bird to come to her? Parker grabbed a jacket, opened the terrace door, and stepped outside. A light wind tousled her long, wavy brown hair and billowed the hem of her pleated skirt. Despite the cold, the fresh air felt good. So pretty tonight, she thought.
Tiptoeing through the icy snowflakes, she approached the bird slowly, opened her arms and motioned to the hummingbird to come toward her. The bird’s white-tipped tailfeathers fluttered away and its dainty twig-like feet, frail as matchsticks, grazed the top of the wrought-iron terrace balustrade. Parker edged closer. Her fingertips whitened as she clung to the metal. Her mind galloped forward, and her eyes swept downward along the rows of bay windows and their respective cornices, all eighteen stories of them, to the traffic plodding along Central Park West.
Parker lightened her hold and faced the hummingbird’s distinctive black triangular marking centered above its beak—right smack in the middle of its head. She leaned over the handrail, her tummy balancing on the slippery metal. The bird dangled before her in the air. She extended her hand to the bird.
Just as her heart skipped a beat, Parker lost her footing, stumbled, and toppled over the rail. She plunged downward. Consumed by panic, she grabbed for something, anything, but she plummeted headfirst, out of control toward the pavement, and the terrifying thought of hitting it…
Blackness devoured her. Pulled by an odd magnetic force, Parker was drawn into a dark, jelly-like tube. She fell faster, accelerating, bouncing along the curving path of gel, waves of nausea and dizziness surging inside her belly. The unending, sloshing movement slowed.
The impact she expected never came. She was alive.”
“In a breathy voice she whispered, “How can I be their leader? I’m not one of them. They know it. And I know it.
“But…” she said with her eyes cast down, “you belong on this planet. You are familiar with the ways of these worlds. Everything here is foreign and strange to me. My real life is on Earth. In New York. The meeting with the Great Ones proved that to me. Even more than I was prepared for or could have imagined.”
She summoned her courage to open the door to talk about the two of them. She searched his expression and finally said, “We haven’t even spoken about what happened between us.” She avoided the sparkle in his eyes and continued. “I keep thinking about you, but I don’t know what to do with my feelings. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. I don’t even trust my head, how am I supposed to trust my heart?”
Parker, though seventeen, felt like a young girl. Immature and inexperienced, and completely unprepared for the conversation with Cole she wanted to have. She had never experienced real friendship before. Worse than that, she was unseen. Invisible to her classmates. Not until she developed a bond and relationship with Edison and Henley. Now, she was pushed into a role she was unequipped to fulfill, a leader, with all eyes on her. She was uncomfortable in her own skin, which didn’t even resemble hers anymore.
The attraction to Cole was uncharted territory. Was it circumstantial? Was she seeking safety and protection? Did he represent her life raft? Her emotions were taking over. “I don’t even know anything about you. Who are you? And why am I here? Why me? My heart is pulled to you, but my brain says stay away!” She searched his face for answers and found encouragement in the warmth of his twinkling blue eyes.
“Parker, this feeling between us, is just as new for me. Something came over me the very first time I saw you with Stefanos. I wanted to know everything about you—what goes on in your head and in your soul,” Cole said. “Now that you’re beside me, I don’t want to ever let go. I want you with me. I need to keep you safe.”
He cupped her face in his hands and took in her eyes. “Many have come and gone, Parker. They have returned to Earth after helping Stefanos. But none have been you. None have been treated as you have by Stefanos. And when the time is right,” he paused and added, “you, too, will return home. There will be another Sky King or Queen. It will be your choice how long you serve.” He leaned in to kiss her again. Their lips met and dwelled in the innocence of the kiss.”
“Parker observed the police troops lining the streets, keeping the crowd in check. As they neared Copley Square, she heard a series of loud crackling and hissing sounds. Their banner wavered. She tightened her grip, reminding herself that she was a city girl and used to a little disarray on the streets. Clouds of smoke rose from the Manhattan sewer grates all the time. There was no cause for alarm here in Boston. Unexpected incidents were part of city life, usually in tandem with loud, unanticipated noises. They never ruffled her. But in this situation, she had to acknowledge that one thing was different—she had never been part of a protest holding a banner. Something that, just maybe, put her at the center of risk.
A thick mass of cloudy air hovered above her. Her vision blurred. There was shouting and more piercing pops of noise followed by whizzing bursts of smoke. Then an earsplitting blast shook the ground beneath her feet. Parker felt the crowd scatter.
Her eyes burned. She needed to look around and see what had happened. She blinked and wanted to rub her eyes to swipe away the charred feeling. Another blast and she fell face-down on the pavement, her hands trapped underneath her. The heat rose from the[…]”
“Another blast and she fell face-down on the pavement, her hands trapped underneath her. The heat rose from the concrete and the smell of burnt smoke permeated her nose. The air scorched her lungs and she had difficulty breathing. Every inch of her body hurt as if she had tumbled down a steep flight of stairs. With all the strength she could manage, she rolled onto her side and squinted, trying to see, but smoke masked most everything around her. Moaning bodies were strewn across the pavement. A flurry of people had scurried from the sidewalk onto the street to help.
Something had gone very wrong. She wanted to reach for her phone, but she couldn’t move her arm, let alone grab her phone. The cascading sound of approaching sirens whirred in the distance. She needed to shut off the street noise and rest. A stern male voice lobbed through the air above her. He was not speaking to her. The voice addressed somebody else who wasn’t responding. Red alerts fired in her brain. Still, she kept her eyes closed, listening but not wanting to hear. Competent hands lifted her. They were firm, but not the caring hands of police officers. They were not the hands of medics, who would have had a soft touch and introduced themselves with an authoritative calm.
The noise from the street quieted. She was being transported from the scene, draped over someone’s shoulder. Her neck was twisted with her face buried in clean, soft, slightly moist skin that had been washed with a pungent, pine-scented aftershave. She told herself she would never forget that scent. That was her last memory for a while.”