"Another PB&J, Sam?"
I look up from the comfort of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich to see the soft blue eyes of Thomas staring at me, his lips curled into a half-grin.
"You're nothing if not consistent."
He gingerly sets his tray of Sloppy Joe Surprise down on the cafeteria table so as not to upset the balance of the joe and bread. One wobble and the greasy surprise would mingle with the apple slices that have found refuge on the far side of his plate.
I nod at him as he plops his body down on the bench and picks up his sandwich. I love him, of course, his auburn hair and innocent face. He looks both so smart and so dumb, as only a boy of 16 can. I am glad for his company, but I also feel his pain. He looks around as he takes a few bites, trying his best to let the glares he endures as other students walk by glance off him, but his brow furrows ever so slightly and I feel his hurt inside of me.
I wish I could do something, and the very fact that I can so very much do something but also so very much cannot adds a new dimension to the pain I feel. I could snuff out the lives of these sneering teens, could turn Nate Everhardt to dust or set Robin Linden ablaze, but that would also be wrong and so I must content myself with thinking about doing such things. The thinking is wrong too, to some degree, but then again, this is high school and nothing had quite prepared me for high school.
Robin "accidentally" ruffles my feathers, turns around in mock surprise at having run into me even though I'm sitting quite still, and fixes me with a judgmental stare.
"God, Chum. What's your problem?" She storms off, as if I was the one who had insulted her. In her head, I am sure I had, by being here. By having these wings that take up an entire side of a cafeteria table. By invading her school, though - in my defense - with the express mandate of Heaven.
When I first arrived, I introduced myself to everyone as the Angel Chamuel, and I think that may have been a tactical error. The first error was in using my title, my full heavenly appellation, as it came off as arrogant and self-important. I am not arrogant, though I do consider my duties fairly important.
The second error was in using the name Chamuel. Though I find the name easy enough to pronounce as I have had it for the whole of my existence, my new classmates stumbled all over it. Uriel and Lailah were right - I should have picked a more common name before arriving. By the time I urged everyone to simply call me Samuel, Sam, or if absolutely necessary Sammy, it was too late and most of the school was referring to me as Chum.
The wings do not help, either. When choosing the form of appearance, I of course had the option to hide my wings. But who am I without my wings? I had never been without them and to hide them while here at Central Lincoln High felt silly at best and deceptive at worst. I am no undercover police officer, here to investigate hallway drug deals. I am the Angel Chamuel, here to teach humanity to love. I kept my wings.
The other students are not a big fan of my wings. While several seemed awed the first day, they soon became an annoyance or distraction to most. A month into the school year, they serve first and foremost as a marker, a cowbell, a Chum Is Here sign that unfurls from my back. I am genuinely surprised that everyone seems to view the wings as a strange affectation, a fashion accessory, a costume. The simple answer sits in font of their face - these are my angel wings, for I am the Angel Chamuel - and yet they bat it aside to go searching for an answer they deem correct, when every other answer is definitively incorrect.
I did make one other error. The big one. That very first day of school, I was not nervous. No, I was full of grace and love, and yet, I was still not prepared. Not for him. Not for Thomas.
Thomas was the first human I saw, up close, as the other humans do. I chose a corner of the parking lot - the less-populated one in direct sunlight most of the day - to appear. In a moment, I had descended to the asphalt surface and heard the tempered beep-beep of a car being remotely locked. I turned the corner and looked up and there he was. This mortal, temporary, awkward image of God. He was magnificent and I immediately and unexpectedly fell in love with him.
I should be clear: this was not my mistake. I had been prepared to love the humans I encountered and truthfully, I do. I love every one of them, even Logan, that perpetually unkind senior with few college prospects but many disciplinary reprimands. But Thomas was the first human, my first human, so, of course, I love him most of all and with a passion that is unlike the heavenly love I had heretofore known.
No, my error was believing that because my love for him was so great, that he would see me and understand. That he would understand the world and heaven and love as I understand it, for how else could I love him so? I knew that I needed to speak to him, but I was also aware that my wings would frighten him, so I decided that I would introduce myself with a miracle.
The miracle - that was my big mistake. I had meant for the miracle to be a show of love, a sign that my heart had grown to make room for Thomas, but Thomas was instead so ensorcelled by the fiery ball I conjured as my hundred hidden eyes blinked from my wings that he instead fell to his knees and became captured by my unearthly grace.
Damn. That's not what I'd meant to do at all. I was here to instruct these students of history and mathematics and marching band on love, but not this love - not the absolute, devotional love that is best left to some of my divine brethren. Human love. The unsure, fumbling love that feels a bit like eating too much ice cream, the kind that now grew inside me for Thomas.
So here we are. Thomas is, for lack of a better word, my disciple and only friend at this school. He believes in me, certain that I am the Angel Chamuel, sent here for some great purpose, and he is doing his utmost to help me achieve it. He tells others of the miracle he witnessed, though for his sake, I wish he would cease. It brings insults from some students and it welcomes challenges from others.
They shout at me: "Make a fireball, Chum!" or "Can you turn my Coke into wine?" I cannot - we angels only learn certain miracles and liquid transformation is a bit above my pay grade - but it is no use explaining these things. I have discovered that performing miracles is the wrong approach.
There are moments when I wonder if this entire endeavor is foolish, if the grand plan has holes in it, despite its divine origins. Or - worse - if my actions have somehow altered the grand design in a ruinous way.
I will be honest. I do not make plans. I have always let the grace of God direct me, always trusted in being filled with inspiration and an absolute truth at moments when I most need it. It has always worked out so far, but I now realize that I have never dealt with humans before. Not close up, not for an extended period of time. A sudden appearance, a sliver of miracle, a proclamation - those moments are nothing. Of course the words come to me easily at times like that.
It is the constant interaction that makes it difficult. It is the void of what to say when someone asks me for the fourth time in a single day, "where are you from? Like, originally?" It is the silence I treat Thomas with when he looks at me with those dewy eyes and asks, "do you think I should ask Dana to the dance? Are dances stupid?"
Yes, Thomas, dances are stupid. Yes, Thomas, you should ask Dana to the Spring Fling. But I cannot quite bring myself to say it, because I know that both these answers together seem contradictory, and because I have so much more that I need to tell him.
I want to tell him, to tell all of these vulnerable young humans bursting with desire, that their language is all wrong. The way they talk about love is a part of what holds them back, that to truly understand love is to ignore the ways they have taught themselves to talk and think about it.
Let us take Dean and Sarah as an example. When they broke up - Dean was seen in Jessica's embrace after study hall - I heard Sarah say that she was sure Jessica had replaced her in Dean's heart. They speak of their hearts as if they were finite containers, as if the addition of the love of one person would necessitate emptying their heart of any others. What fools!
They carry within them vessels of love, indeed. If they wish to imagine that their muscled hearts, filled with blood, are also the things that contain love, so be it. Attempting to give a visual to the idea of the soul is a thankless task. The heart it is.
And yet! When one is loved by another, their affection, their devotion, their admiration does not take up space. It makes space. Love is not a passenger on the ship of the heart, it is an extra room. As a human loves and is loved, so does their vessel grow. This is their greatest misconception, the way in which their descriptions of love have failed them.
It should not be hard to understand. Humans have cleared the way with hate. If they allow hate into themselves, with every act of hatred that they are party to, their vessel likewise grows - though in different directions, with similar and yet wholly different kinds of rooms - giving them over to opportunities to gather more and more hate. This is not misconstrued. No one believes they only have room for the hatred of one person.
Soulmates exist, sure. But we are all soulmates. Everyone is loved. Why can they not see it?
The other students lean against each other in pairs, the waves of desire emanating from them in almost visual crests. I can feel the pulse of the bodies in this room, of the lustful energy that permeates this gym.
Teachers and parents do their best to keep the children apart, but the energy of the children is stronger, will outlast even the most persistent chaperone here.
I am neither student nor chaperone, not really. My wings make it hard to even enter the dance floor without knocking a couple over, though Thomas remarked that he found the way the lights shone off my feathers incredibly beautiful. As if my feathers could match the form of his face. As if he is a judge of beauty.
I find him on the dance floor, a human body awkwardly nestled against another - the one and only Dana - and I focus on the two of them for a moment.
That is when it hits me and it feels like my entire being is being torn asunder. In that instant, the plan becomes clear, the divine speaks to me, and I understand exactly what Sarah meant when Jessica took her man. I see Thomas's vessel and it is filled - every room, every nook and cranny - with Dana. The vessel itself is Dana. There is no room for anyone else and it is expanding still but Dana is expanding with it, in sync, always full, perpetually growing and filling.
This is the lesson, the one I am meant to learn - that though these pitiful humans do not understand love, they feel it. That their souls may grow to fit love and yet be momentarily stuffed with the love of a single other shining being. That high school dances might simultaneously be disastrous wastes of time and money and also the greatest nights in the lives of these young humans.
That my time with Thomas is nearing an end. That by the time the DJ plays his final song tonight, I will be nothing more than an image of wings seared into his imagination and a pile of ash the night wind will disperse once the gym doors are opened again at 11:15, for I have been replaced in his heart.