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Now she was older and not as stupid. She knew better than to go jumping off the top of a building many many stories in the air. The vicarage roof, which had only two floors—three if the basement were counted—was far more sensible. She hadn't planned on jumping off of it, or even of leaving the roof at all. But the city was loud and she could smell the rash from the dumpster one Street over, and it was hot, hot, hot, even outside. So she'd crawled back in and changed from the long white nightgown she usually wore into jeans and a tank top, also white. Now at least she was dressed, though she wasn't planning on meeting anyone.
Father Ivan was downstairs sleeping—as she should've been, but wasn't—so she crept very very very quietly back out onto the roof. She stepped to the edge, crouched, and jumped. At first, the ground came rushing up to meet her and she squeezed her eyes shut, bracing for a crash. Instead, an updraft caught her wings and carried her up into the air. A few good flaps later and Helena was soaring, the street below her growing smaller and smaller the higher she flew. Helena grinned, biting her lip to keep back a laugh. It would lent Do to wake someone up and be spotted. That never ended well.
She flew until the scenery below changed from houses and streets to grass and trees. Helena had not learned how to land yet-not really—she simply flung herself at the ground and hoped to end up somewhere soft. Sometimes she did, sometimes she didn't. Tonight, she ended up in a bramble patch. With a muffled yowl, Helena set about freeing herself. Clawing at the thorny branches, she pushed them aside and scrambled out, whimpering at the scratches along her face and arms. Father would say she deserved them, that they were her punishment for disobeying and leaving the house when she knew she wasn't supposed to. Helena’s shoulders hunched and her wings folded themselves around her. They weren't warm, or soft, but the weight felt nice.
Maybe she should go home before someone saw her—or she was missed—and she got in trouble.
Helena turned, heading for a group of trees, when she heard a voice behind her. “Get a load of that! Quick, get your phone man. We’ll be famous.” Oh. No, no, no, no, no. She'd been seen. Maybe. Maybe if she ran she could get to the trees before—“Hey Bird girl. Smile for the National Inquirer.” Helena turned, squinting into the darkness, yelping as a camera flash went off. No, no, no. They couldn't show that to anybody. They couldn't they couldn't they couldn't. Snarling, she ran toward the group of boys. Up close she saw there were three of them, most about her age. She lunged at the one holding the phone, but he only laughed and threw it to his friend. Helena ran toward him, but he tossed it to the other boy who tossed it back to the first. They were all taller than her, and stood just close enough that her wings were no help.
She had to do something. She had to get the phone. Springing at the boy holding it, Helena sank her teeth into his arm. He shrieked and dropped the phone. She dove for it—and one of the others grabbed her, wrapping both arms around her from behind and wrestling her away, kicking the phone to their third friend. The one who'd grabbed her was strong, holding onto her even as she kicked and thrashed. He forced her up against a tree before drawing back his fist and punching her in the stomach. With a cry, she doubled over, grabbing onto her knees to stay upright.
When she straightened up again, the boy she'd bit was coming toward her, the knife in his hand flashing in the darkness. “Hey Birdy. Maybe it's time somebody clipped your wings, huh?”
The boys did not want to leave, and the woman threatened to call the police. Oh. Oh, oh, oh. No police. No. That would be bad. Very very very bad. They would see her and they would take her and they would lock-her-up and scientists would come and study her for-research. Finally, the boys left, and there were no police coming. It was alright. She was safe. Safe safe safe. She let herself breathe again, though her stomach still hurt from where the boy had hit her. Probably, she would have a bruise in the morning. That was alright though. She was not being locked-up. She could go home. Bruises were familiar anyway. She was used to dealing with them.
Helena pressed herself against the tree when the woman came closer still and squatted beside her. The stranger had seen her wings--Helena had seen her looking--maybe now she would be afraid. But she didn't seem to be. She just asked if Helena was alright. Out of habit, she said, "Yes, thank you for asking," then blurted out, "You are very brave." Cheeks growing hot, she ducked her head to stare at her feet. She was never any good st talking to people. What was she supposed to say to this stranger who had come to her rescue? Maybe nothing. Probably, that would be better. She would surely say the wrong thing again anyway, just as she always did.
The woman wasn't. She even got closer, though that had made Helena shrink back at first. Nobody got that close unless she was bad and they meant to punish her for it. Except--again--Devina. This woman, with her pretty dark skin and hair, reminded her of her friend. Maybe they knew each other. If they didn't, maybe she would introduce them, and then she would have two friends. That would be wonderful. Wonderful wonderful wonderful.
Oh. Helena chewed her lip. The woman was not going to want to be her friend if she kept ignoring her questions. “Sorry. Yes, I am sure. I am only a little sore." It was nice that she asked. Nice, nice, nice. But there wasn't anything to do for bruises except wait for them to heal. Besides, probably lifting her shirt up to show the other woman was bad. They were in-public, and, it was bad to show your skin in-public. That's what Father always said, anyway, and she would be in enough trouble already if he found out where she was, and what almost had happened. No need to add indecent-exposure to her list of sins.
She snorted, glancing up at her new friend then away again. A faint, quiet giggle slipped out. Oh! This one was funny. Funny, funny, funny. That was nice, too. "Mmmmm. Yes. Much crash landings." She giggled again, giving her new friend another smile. ”My name is Helena.” Out went her hand, like Father taught her. ”What is your name?”
"It is nice to meet you, also, Miss Zinnia. I like your name. Is like flowers." Father taught her to say that--it-is-nice-to-meet-you--and mostly she only said it to him, when they were practicing. She did not tell him it was stupid, and pointless, because he eould not let her meet anyone. The exercise was stupid, but she wasn't. Mostly, she did not mean it, she only said it because Father expected it. This time, though, she did mean it. Zinnia was her friend, and if was nice to meet her. Nice, nice, nice. The compliment she meant, definitely, and that she did not say out of habit. She had said it because she wanted to, nit because she had to. Would Zinnia notice? Pfobdbky not, but that was alright.
She tilted her head at the mention of food. Almost slways she was hungry. Father said she was a-glutton-and-thought-about-food-too-much, but, he was not here and the woman had offered. Helena had not asked. So, maybe it was alright that she accepted. But, her wings eould be seen. She had not thought to bring a coat, and if the boys were bad, what would an entire room full of people do? Helena chewed her lip. The woman had a scarf on, but she was not sure if it was polite to ask if she could borrow it. Maybe it would be alright. It would be nicer than mentioning her wings and trying to trick the woman into offering it. She had tried to do that with Father once, and he said she was being decietful-and-wicked-and-she-should-have-asked-outright-instead-of-talking-about-how-nice-the-new-book-he'd-bought-looked. So, she would be good this time and ask outright, like Father said. "I would love to go, I am hungry, but, my wings. May I borrow your scarf?" Her new friend could always say no of course, but maybe she wouldn't, and anyway, at least Helena had asked her right.