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Authors: Tammar Stein

Debts

BOOK: Debts
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Also by Tammar Stein

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Spoils

Light Years

High Dive

THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2013 by Tammar Stein

Cover photograph copyright © 2013 by shutterstock

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

Visit us on the Web!
randomhouse.com/teens

Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at
RHTeachersLibrarians.com

ISBN 978-0-385-75619-8 (ebook)

First Alfred A. Knopf Ebook Edition November 2013

Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

v3.1

To Liora and Gabriel Laufer.

Life’s not fair, but I landed on the better side of it having you as my parents.

Contents
Chapter One

Everyone holds secrets. Everyone hides them.

That middle-aged woman shuffling into the café, weighted down by a bulky purse and clunky knee-high boots. The college student absently drinking coffee while tapping on a laptop, white earbuds shutting out the rest of the world. The server who brings them their lunches. They’re all hiding something.

One was molested as a child. One came here from the apartment of a married man. One just found out she’s pregnant.

It’s possible.

Or maybe Miriam’s being paranoid.

Because when Emmett’s phone rings, he glances at the readout and straightens with a jolt, and in that second, Miriam could swear a guilty look crosses his face.

“Do you mind if I take this outside?” he asks, already rising out of his seat.

“Go ahead.” She waves a hand casually, though something turns in her belly, a question that didn’t used to exist.

Emmett nods his thanks and hurries outside, phone to ear. Her salad, his sandwich, sit paused on the table.

Miriam rereads the chalkboard menu above the gleaming wooden counter, eyeballs the glass case full of treats she shouldn’t have. Now she has time to really study the other people in the café, all busy in their own worlds, which for all she knows are actually safe, comfortable and lovely. It’s possible. She tucks a few strands of her long curly hair behind an ear, though it’s a
futile gesture; her hair makes its own decisions about where it goes.

She can see Emmett outside, holding the phone to his ear with one hand, using the other to block the noise from the street. His eyes are almost closed as he focuses hard on the voice coming through. The café sits on a busy street and there’s a steady stream of cars driving by Emmett. A couple of Vanderbilt students brush past him, laughing at a shared joke. It’s undoubtedly quieter inside. She flicks through a mental list of possibilities for the mysterious caller. One of his local buddies who watches the shop? No. Emmett wouldn’t leave his seat for that. If it was one of those burly but sweet guys, he’d give her that familiar half smile and say, apologetically, “It’s BJ, do you mind?”

She’d like to think it’s his sister, the naval officer, calling from some exotic port. Somehow, Miriam is sure it’s a girl calling. But also, she’s just as certain it isn’t his sister.

A man walks into the café. Miriam notices him in that casual way you notice strangers when you’re sitting by yourself at a restaurant, waiting for your date to return. There’s not much about him that would catch her eye. But she looks again as she realizes he’s walking straight toward her. When he casually sits down in Emmett’s seat, she straightens in surprise.

“Excuse me,” she starts. “This seat is taken—”

“Hello, Miriam,” he says, but his lips aren’t moving.

Miriam’s eyes grow wide and the breath catches in her chest. He smiles at her reaction, a modest smile that seems to mock her, as if to say,
What’s the big deal
, but also
You haven’t seen anything yet
. And
Who’s got secrets now?

In her defense, he doesn’t look anything like Raphael, that terrifying angel, the left hand of God, who came to her six months ago. That time, there was a searing cold light that burned her skin. A light that blinded her. A voice that reverberated in her bones. A face so terrible she
still can’t bring herself to think of it.

Instead, there is this little man with mousy brown hair and narrow shoulders, wearing a beige jacket so forgettable as to be practically invisible. Yet despite the convincing disguise, his eyes don’t look human. His eyes are the deep blue-black of the ocean when the bottom is five miles down. An ocean where large creatures are stirring.

He doesn’t say his name. He doesn’t need to. She hears it in her mind, ringing like a bell.

The archangel Gabriel, whose name means “God is my strength,” who serves as a messenger from God to humans, is sitting in front of her.

“You didn’t think you were finished,” he asks, that little smile never budging. “Did you?”

Chapter Two

Miriam sits at her favorite café, surrounded by heedless patrons, and cannot look away from Gabriel’s eyes. He sits there, so pleased with his joke, his humble little disguise. The sounds, the people, the smells in the café, they must still exist, but they seem to vanish as she feels herself falling into the deadly depth of his gaze. There’s something awful about the fact that he can sit there in front of so many witnesses while they all remain unaware, utterly oblivious to the implications, the terror and potential that sits so unassumingly at the table for two near the counter.

“We are trying to help you,” he says. “We are trying to make this simple.”

Even in the midst of a panic attack, Miriam is able to fight back a wave of hysterical laughter. How could he possibly imagine that anything she’s accomplished the past six months was simple?

He turns his curious, terrifying gaze to the plates where her and Emmett’s food sits half eaten and nudges the silverware so that they lay perfectly parallel, twitches Emmett’s plate to center it between the unused fork and knife, and brushes the crumbs off the table. The world’s scariest perfectionist.

“We are trying to help you,” he repeats, his eyes hooded as he adjusts the angle of Emmett’s drink in relation to the plate. He glances up and nails her with a look that sends ice to her stomach. “But there is only so much we can do.”

Miriam lowers her gaze in sudden shame and nods. Are there rules to how much angels
can interfere? Do they chafe?

“I’m sorry that I failed you,” she says in a small voice. She’s never had a conversation with an angel before. Raphael didn’t allow for the space that words need. Gabriel is a little different, still terrifying, but perhaps more used to dealing with humans. She wants to say so much more. To beg for forgiveness, to find out if Mo, her twin brother, is still in trouble. She wants him to say clearly, once and for all, what she is supposed to do. If Gabriel can read her thoughts, he doesn’t show it.
Just tell me
, she thinks, risking a look at him, but those words don’t come.

The angel waves away her apology and shakes his head in mock dismay. There are a few streaks of gray in his dull brown hair, but as Miriam studies him, trying so hard to remember everything he says, every little thing about him, she realizes the strands aren’t gray—they glint with a metallic shine. The little creases by his eyes, the thin lines that bracket his mouth, none of them sit quite right. It’s a costume and she shivers, not wanting to see what lies beneath. His dismay, the attempts to guide and help, maybe those are fake too.

Miriam waits for more, the
what
, the
why
.

“You are easily distracted,” he scolds, his narrow hands folded on the perfectly set table in front of him. “You must concentrate.”

As if to punctuate his words, the bell tied to the door of the café rings. Her eyes shift off Gabriel for a second as she sees Emmett step into the restaurant.

“What am I supposed to do? What’s my new mission?” she asks quickly, before he can disappear. There, she’s managed to ask an angel a question. But it’s too late. Gabriel is already rising, slipping out of the seat and away from the table so smoothly that Emmett hasn’t even realized there was someone in his seat. “Don’t leave me without instructions. Please. I’ll do what
you say.”

Gabriel turns and smiles at her, a beautiful, radiant smile, and her eyes widen in hope. But then Emmett is there, pulling out his chair and saying something she can’t hear. Gabriel slips away, blending in with the crowd waiting to order at the counter, and even though she never takes her eyes off him, somewhere between sliding through the small cluster of customers near the cashier, he’s gone. She blinks quickly. The bell by the door jingles and she looks over to see a small man in a thin beige jacket step out of the restaurant and look up at the sky for a moment. Then he shoves his hands in his pockets and hurries away. It suddenly strikes her as odd that he’s wearing a jacket on a warm sunny day. Another slip in his disguise, a small detail that doesn’t quite fit.

“Miriam,” Emmett says. Something in his tone implies this isn’t the first time he’s called her name. “Hello?” He waves in front of her face. She looks at him and knows she must be pale. “Are you okay? Is it your stomach?”

She starts to shake her head, but then realizes this is a perfectly fine excuse to be the total wreck that she is.

“We should go,” she says, fighting to sound normal and probably failing. “I want to go home.”

“Okay,” he says. And in that no-fuss way she adores, he quickly arranges for two containers to pack up their uneaten lunch, pays the bill and steers her outside. When you’re a tall, tattooed man with a shaved head and broad shoulders, you tend to get great table service.

Miriam stands in front of the café, at the exact spot where an archangel stood less than ten minutes ago. Mimicking his actions, she stops, shoves her hands in her pockets and looks up at the sky.

It’s a pretty day, one of the few left of the summer. The smell of exhaust from a truck past its prime lingers in the air, though the truck is already out of sight. She wonders what Gabriel saw up there. Perhaps something more than clouds drifting across a bright blue sky. Perhaps not. They’re trying to make it simple for her, he said. She sighs. Three little sparrows peck at crumbs by one of the café’s outdoor tables. A car honks at a driver who hasn’t noticed the light turned green. Emmett stands a few feet away, looking at her curiously and waiting for her to walk with him to his car.

So she’s not finished. Time to figure out how to fix her mistakes, right the wrongs. She squares her shoulders and hurries to catch up with Emmett.

Time to get to work.

Chapter Three

Emmett drops Miriam off at her apartment and drives back to the shop. He yanks off the handwritten note saying the shop is closed for lunch and then trudges to the back, where he can sit and figure out what the hell he should do about the phone call. There are many things he should do now, like file payments, check on orders, pull out the ledgers and have them ready for the unpleasantness to come at one o’clock. He could flip through his art books for inspiration and ideas for flash. He could post more pics on his blog—there were a couple of tattoos yesterday that really rocked and would get a lot of clicks. But he sits there, head in his hands, rubbing his scalp as if he could push an idea in or at least dislodge one that might be lurking in the depths.

BOOK: Debts
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