“How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.' But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the darkening pit.“
- Isaiah 14:12
“Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell.”
- William Shakespeare
It's just a number, but today, this number is everything. For starters, today is my eighteenth birthday. And the date is Monday 18th September, the start of a new academic term at my new school - the eighteenth school I have attended over the years. Gabby and I move from town to town at least once or twice a year, and as a result I'm the eternal 'new girl at school' - never in one place for long, just passing through everywhere I go.
This year, this town, this school, will be no different.
"Happy birthday Lu!" Gabby says, her smiling face illuminated in the golden glow of eighteen little candles. Instead of a birthday cake though, she's poked the candles into the next best thing - we're celebrating my birthday with a candlelit stack of maple-syrup-drenched buttermilk pancakes, taking pride of place on the breakfast table.
"Thanks," I murmur, trying to manage a smile, but wishing I could just go back to bed and sleep this whole stupid day away.
In fact, I wish I could just sleep this whole year away. Wake me up when we get to the next town.
I have to admit though - compared to some of the other bleak little towns we've lived in, Serpentwood really isn't that bad. It's actually quite pretty, with its quaint oak and apple-tree lined cobblestone streets, historic Victorian buildings and a bustling marina on the edge of a picturesque lake. I haven't had a chance to go out and explore the town yet - we only arrived the day before yesterday, so the whole weekend was a flurry of unpacking boxes and getting settled - but I'm pretty excited to have a look around. Maybe I'll check it out after school, if Gabby hasn't already planned some weird birthday activity for the afternoon, like a picnic in a church's graveyard, or visiting the local dog shelter to play with all the dogs.
If there's one thing Gabby's not, it's normal.
"C'mon Lu, those candles aren't going to blow themselves out," Gabby says, the knife in her hand hovering over the stack of pancakes, ready to slice. "Make a wish!"
I wish that for once in my life, I could just stay in one place for longer than six months, I think silently to myself. I wish I wasn't a friendless, nameless loner with no real home and no real family, apart from a mysterious guardian who has more secrets than a two-faced catfish. And most of all, I wish today was over.
I feel guilty for feeling this way - I know I should be grateful for everything I do have, but sometimes it's a real struggle.
I breathe in deeply and blow out the candles. All but seven go out, and I can see the grin spreading across Gabby's face - she wants to make some stupid joke about how it means I'm going to have seven boyfriends, or seven years until my wedding day.
There's a sudden loud honking from outside.
"That's the school bus," I say, dragging myself wearily to my feet. "Might as well get this over and done with."
"But what about your birthday pancakes?" Gabby says, her beautiful face twisted in a disappointed pout. "You haven't even taken a single bite."
"Just put them in the fridge, I'll eat them later," I say, grateful for the early arrival of the school bus. I'm feeling queasy from nerves, and probably couldn't stomach breakfast anyway.
I hurry over to the coat rack, grabbing my blazer and slipping it on, before checking my appearance quickly in the mirror. Even though I know it doesn't really matter in the long run what sort of first impression I make - I won't be at this school longer than a few months, just like every other school I've been to - it's still easier to blend in if I at least look decent on my first day.
I inspect my shoulder-length blonde hair, a tumbling waterfall of wild dark golden curls framing a pale, oval face. My eyes are light brown, the colour of caramel. I'm short for my age - only five foot two - and slender, sort of delicate-looking, which is how I earned the nickname "Dolly" at one of the schools I used to attend. I'm dressed in the school uniform of St. Selaphiel's Academy - a checkered grey tartan skirt and matching necktie, a white blouse, and a dark green blazer. Emblazoned on the blazer breast pocket, the school’s logo shimmers like a golden leaf lying on the forest floor - an apple with two snakes wrapped around it, their jaws open, fangs ready to pierce the yielding flesh of the fruit. Beneath the snakes, the school’s motto is embroidered in latin.
‘Fortis in Procella’ - translation: Strength in Adversity.
I can't imagine what sort of adversity those attending this private school for the children of the elite would ever have faced - but guess I'll hold my judgments until I actually get there.
"You're sure you don't want me to just drive you?" Gabby says, her eyes twinkling hopefully. She's already glancing over to the car keys hanging by the front door.
"I'll take the bus," I say, unhooking my school bag from the coat rack.
I don't want to hurt her feelings, but even the most cramped, loudest school bus packed with feral, unpredictable teens and a half-asleep crackhead bus driver is preferable to having Gabby drop me off at the school gates. For one thing, she's a terrible driver. Like, shockingly, bone-chillingly bad. You literally put your life on the line as a passenger in any vehicle she's driving - something she's blissfully oblivious to, despite the hundreds of speeding tickets she's been issued over the years. Also, it's become more and more awkward recently to explain to curious onlookers who exactly Gabby is.
When I was much younger - a little kid - I could get by telling people she was my mom. People must have assumed she was a teen mom, but that was ok by her, and it worked. As I got older, I told people that she was my aunt, and as the age gap closed further, we started telling people that she's my big sister. That worked for a while, as well.
But now that I'm eighteen, we look more like friends or twins than older and younger sister. People probably would believe it if I told them she's my older sister - at most, she looks like she might be eighteen or nineteen, so it's possible - but I don't feel like dealing with strangers asking me a million questions that I don't have the answers to.
How am I meant to tell anyone anything, when I don't really know anything myself?
I HATE MY LIFE.