‘Congratulations to the graduating class 203!’ The angel that had taught us everything we needed to know to be guardian angels stood in front of the waiting crowd, basking in their cheer. From where we stood at the side of the stage, I couldn’t see a single space for anyone else to cram themselves into.
Alicia grabbed my hand and squeezed it, and I smiled at them, trying to appear reassuring and naturally cringing away from the sweat pooling between our palms.
‘After a rigorous training program, these students have risen to the occasion, and have now earned their wings!’
Alicia looked at the wings on their back, red and black striped with ‘training’ plastered across them. ‘What if my wings look ridiculous?’ They chewed on her lower lip as they whispered, muffling everything they said.
‘I have been to every graduation since I could toddle around, and that has never happened. You’ll be fine.’
They screwed up their mouth and frowned. Before they had a chance to respond, our teacher began to call names.
Alicia was first, and their training wings disappeared with a flash. Left in their place were blinding white feathers that stretched from their neck to their lower back. Everyone cheered as they blushed, their innocence proudly on display. Nathaniel followed, and they roared as their wings flamed behind them. Nor’s strut was rewarded with glistening peacock feathers, Danni got peach pink wings that sparkled, and Greg got red racing stripes down black feathers.
My name was called, and I stepped on to the stage, ears ringing. I knelt down on cue and closed my eyes. I felt my training wings changing, morphing on my back. I waited a second before opening my eyes for the cheer that had followed everyone else’s transformations. The room remained silent.
I opened my eyes and looked around to see wide eyes and slackened jaws. I turned my head away from the mirror and reached up to feel the feathers, but the range of textures and sizes I felt only confused me more. Turning to the mirror, I saw an amalgamation of feathers; different sizes, colours, and designs sticking out at such different angles I couldn’t take it all in. I looked for Alicia, hoping for some reassurance, but they just stood with their hand over their mouth, eyes wide.
I looked up at my teacher, whose face was ashen. They made a motion with their hand for me to leave the stage, as they clapped and cheered. The audience half-heartedly joined in, and then began murmuring as soon as I was out of their sight.
Alicia had their arms outstretched for a hug. I walked straight up to them, wrapping my arms around them and putting my head on their shoulder.
‘It’s going to be okay,’ they said, squeezing me tight.
‘I look like an idiot,’ I said. The tears found their way free of my eyes and soaked into Alicia’s jumper.
‘Come on.’ Alicia broke the hug, took me by the hand and led me away from the stares and the whispers.
I couldn’t escape the weird looks no matter where I went. Word had got around about the disastrous ceremony, and the wings weren’t exactly easy to cover up. It wasn’t so much the looks or the muttering that I minded, it was what the wings said about me. Why were my wings, the things that were supposed to reflect my soul, so disgusting to look at?
Alicia was the best friend I could have asked for, staying by my side whenever they could, and helping to distract me. Whenever we had a spare moment, we sat in the library and tried to find out if there was any way that I could change my wings.
It was on one of these research sessions that I just gave up. ‘There’s no point anymore, Alicia. We’re going to get assigned to our protectees in two days, so I’m just going to have to get on with what I’ve been given.’ I gestured to my wings, but Alicia was ignoring me, their finger sliding over the pages of the book in their hand. ‘Alicia, I said give up.’
‘Hold on, I think I’ve found something.’
I sighed, preparing for some nonsense about wing transplants.
They closed the book, holding their finger inside it to bookmark the page. ‘Close your eyes. Put all of your energy and focus into your wings.’
I did as they said, muttering under my breath about how stupid and futile this all was. ‘Alright, now what?’
‘Think of doves, and only doves.’
I did as she said, thinking of flying doves and letting them cover my mind’s eye.
I heard Alicia squeal. ‘It worked!’
‘What worked?’ My eyes flew open and I tried to look at my wings. My hand stretched behind my back and instead of the mess that my fingers had found before, my hand was met with smooth, soft wings, all carefully arranged to point the same way. ‘How…’
Alicia opened the book and showed me the page. ‘You have chameleon wings! Pretty rare, super cool, you can change them into whatever you want them to look like.’
They looked back to the book. ‘Anything made of feathers, it seems. It’s weird, now that you have your proper wings it makes perfect sense. You do tend to blend with any situation you’re in.’
‘It’s a good thing! Anyway, no-one realised because chameleons are super rare, and the wing granting ceremony usually gives them whatever wings they think they should have. Look, it explains it all right here.’ Alicia pointed to a paragraph about halfway down the page, and I took the book off them and started reading the passage.
‘What do I do now then? Do I have to tell anyone about this?’
‘I guess you would have to tell whoever is in charge of assignments – they assign you based on whatever place’s idea of angels, in case you’re seen.’ Alicia moved in front of me and gently closed the book over my hands. ‘But for now,’ they said, eyebrows wiggling with mischief, ‘I reckon we can just have some fun with it. After all, you need to know the limits of your power before you use it, right?’
‘You do have a point.’ I grinned, put the book down, and focused on transforming my wings into the most ridiculous things I could for the next three hours, having the most fun I could remember having for a long time, happy to finally be able to celebrate who I was.