*Bonus scene cut from ELYSIAN (Celestra Series Book 8)
A Celestra Christmas Carol
Mia and Melissa sit on the floor texting each other with their new phones with nothing but the colorful Christmas lights to brighten the room. A tidal wave of wrapping paper surrounds them, and it looks magical, the silver foil sprayed with rainbow lights—even Tad’s annoying tinsel holds a regal beauty at this late hour, reflecting blues and purples.
Outside the window, the navy sky is stamped with charcoal-colored clouds—a wash of moonlight shines over the ground, bright as a spotlight.
I roll off the couch and make my way outside. There’s nothing in me that can mirror the joy of my sisters. Not even holding little Beau tonight on his first official Christmas is enough to pull me out of this funk.
It’s cold outside. The wind licks at my ankles, and the iced porch seeps right through my socks. I head out toward the woods regardless of the Arctic chill. This is one of those moments in life where you wish the black of night would swallow you whole, and you’d cease to exist forever.
“Midnight stroll?” A male voice booms from behind.
I don’t need to turn around to know its Marshall.
I lunge at him and wrap my arms around him so tight, you’d think he just rescued me from a burning building.
“No need for all the teen angst.” He buries a kiss in my hair. “A simple Merry Christmas will do.”
“Merry Christmas.” I give him a quick peck square on the lips.
“Now tell me why you’re out here and not in there trying out the new clothes I’ve lined your closet with.” He growls with his signature sexual leer.
“Because I’m pretty sure they’re illegal.” I roll my eyes as I envision the parade of lacy frilly numbers that I’ll have one hell of a time explaining once my mother catches sight of them. “A hooker would blush wearing those things.” I try to keep a smile from hedging on my lips.
“They’re not street clothes, Skyla. It’s a private reserve for our soon-to-be expansive couple time.”
“About that”—I bury my face in the warmth of his chest a moment before pulling back—“Marshall, I can’t take this. I’ve become a poison that kills everything she touches—everyone she loves.”
“Well then, you must hate me because I’m still standing. And I assure you, I’m quite virile.” He takes up my hand, and we begin to stroll through the maze of pale birch trees with their chalky bark.
I glance up at the deep cobalt sky through the gnarled branches, and a sense of peace begs to take over this horrible foreboding, but I won’t let it.
“You know, sometimes Marshall, I wish I was never born. I’m sure it would have been a lot less trouble for everyone all around—me included.”
Marshall wraps an arm around my waist and pulls me in.
“Why don’t we verify this rather morose theory of yours.”
“And how will we do that?” I glance up at his well-chiseled features—that gorgeous head of hair that reflects the glow of the moonlight. I can’t help but note a sparkle of excitement in his eye. I’m sure his “verification” methods are engineered to land me on his mattress.
He gives the impression of a wicked grin. “That, too, shall come to pass, but first—I’ll simply reverse the natural order of the last eighteen years as we take a little joy ride through time.”
Marshall doesn’t wait for my approval. He waves his hand in the air and the woods, the soot-covered sky converge in a whirlpool of color, and we spin in a downward spiral as if he had just flushed all of Paragon down the toilet.
And with my luck, he just might have.
The sky opens up to a tangerine expanse. The familiar perfume of warm roses mixed with smog assures me we’re in L.A. It’s this scent exactly that has bookmarked itself in my mind as the marker of my old home.
Marshall lands us at an opulent estate, a tall white mansion with miles of garland looping around the property. A few cars sit out front while people mill inside the palatial estate, enjoying a holiday party.
“You did it!” I give a little jump holding tight to his hand. “This is really the world without me in it?”
“Indeed it is, and I wouldn’t be so giddy, Ms. Messenger. It’s not all smog and roses you know.” He wraps an arm around my shoulder. “Come.” Marshall walks us through the iron gate as if it were nothing but a vapor. He speeds to the oversized McMansion, and we walk through the tall glossy doors swift as apparitions.
A familiar Christmas carol plays throughout the opulent home as we make our way into the party.
“Oh look!” I point over to an all-familiar, strapping man, holding a drink in hand and sharing a laugh with friends. “There’s my dad.” Everything in me sighs as I take him in.
“Not your father,” Marshall says, strolling us through the expensively dressed crowd. “You don’t exist, remember?”
“Oh.” A thread of disappointment runs through me. “I sort of forgot about that.”
A giant Christmas tree is lit up with a million white lights at the far end of the room, and I distinctly recognize the redhead belting out a laugh.
“There’s Mom!” I squeal like a schoolgirl. “Am I going to see how they met?” I’m fascinated by this. I should have Marshall blip me out of existence more often.
“Heaven’s no. They’ve already met. Lizbeth was a bridesmaid at his wedding a year ago.”
“A what?” The room warps with my surprise.
“Careful, love. We’re in a delicate state of being.”
“So Dad married someone else? It’s Candace isn’t it?” I wouldn’t put it past my celestial mother to simply have another version of me. That’s always been the underlying truth—she never quite needed me.
“She indeed needed you, Skyla, or you wouldn’t have been born in the first place.” Marshall points over to a toasted blonde with a silver lame pantsuit that makes me feel like I’m going to have a seizure just looking at it. “That’s your father’s bride. She’s expecting twins. Two boys. All holy hell will break loose once she spawns the little demons.”
“What?” I gasp in horror.
A bell goes off near the tree, and all eyes are directed toward the illuminated ode to Christmas foliage. And what to my wandering eyes should appear, but Demetri Freaking Edinger.
“What does he want?” I spit it out low, suddenly disgusted by the horrible turn of events.
“Please, everyone, I bid you a moment of your attention,” he calls it out over the crowd, and the room hushes to a whisper. “I want to thank you all for coming out.” He gleams his wicked scowl as he scans the room and squints a special smile in my direction. “My bride and I will be leaving shortly on our honeymoon, but please, stay and enjoy the festivities. Santa arrives at eight.” He lifts his drink high in the air.
“Shit.” I watch in horror as Demetri makes his way to my mother and seals his lips over hers.
The room starts in on a low-lying tremble, then gyrates violently, and the crowd lights up with a scream as Marshall and I disappear.
“Do control your emotions, dear. I’d hate to have my visa revoked by the Decision Council for disrupting the unnatural order of things.”
“That was disgusting,” I say, taking in our new surroundings.
A bevy of bodies clutter up a darkened living room, and for a second I think we’re at one of Ellis’s morally bankrupt parties only to discover a far more familiar layout. “We’re at the Oliver house! I’m much more relived to be here than Demetri’s hornet’s nest in a reality where he weds my mother.”
“We’ll see about that.” Marshall walks us through the crowd and tempers his body to the rhythm of the loud, raucous music booming through the speakers. “Oh, yippy”—he bleeds a nefarious smile without the proper enthusiasm—“here comes Jock Strap now.”
Gage. Those deep wells dig in on either side of his face as he gives one of his killer smiles. For a minute, I think maybe he’s smiling at me until a brunette, wearing nothing but a not-so-long T-shirt, runs up and uses his body as pole.
“Who the hell is that?”
“That is a girl who has had her sights on young Oliver for quite some time now. And is she ever glad you’ve never taken up space on the planet—or least she would be.” He nods over toward the hug fest.
I want to hurl at the sight of her overzealous limbs rubbing up against him. Honest to God, it hurts just to be facing their direction.
Her long tan legs, her flowing dark mane remind me a lot of Chloe, but, thankfully, she’s not the skank in question.
Gage gently removes her and takes a step away. His smile fades as he makes small talk.
“Ha!” I laugh in the face of Marshall’s botched up plan to drive me insane with jealousy. “I can totally tell he’s not interested. According to his body language, he’s looking for a quick escape.”
“It’s true. His heart is full of sorrow.”
I feel horrible. I’m almost afraid to ask why.
“That’s right, Skyla. He senses a part of him is missing. He’s quite the brooding artist, sinking himself in his poetry—those morose metrical compositions take up most of his day and night. He’ll be famous for them one day but not until well after his death.”
“Don’t feel too badly. Prior to his rather untimely demise, he marries the very girl that he’s trying to avoid.”
“No!” It gasps from me. “I mean, they don’t even look good together.” Now there’s a lame excuse to keep someone for myself when I don’t even technically exist.
“Give her about ten years’ time, and she’ll agree with you. She leaves him for a minor league baseball player. Oliver will have sole custody of the children, though. It’s not all doom and gloom for the blue-eyed sage. There’s a second nuptial on the horizon shortly after that.”
“Children?” The thought of Gage procreating with half-dressed skanks makes me feel like someone just threw a brick at my chest. And another bride? I don’t like this one freaking bit. “That’s—”
“Not what you expected?”
“At least Chloe’s not in the picture.”
“Things couldn’t be further from the truth.” He nods just past my shoulder at a rather wasted brunette doing what looks like a sloppy rendition of a lap dance over some guy, and—holy shit, I think that’s Logan!
“That is Logan!” I try to make my way over, but Marshall holds me back.
“Relax. You don’t exist, remember? Besides, she’s simply trying to make Jock Strap writhe with jealousy.”
“Does Logan know this?” As much as I hate the thought of her trying to rile up Gage, I hate the fact she’s using Logan to do it.
“He doesn’t mind one bit. In fact, Chloe is simply one of many in a long line of women trailing around the block to get on the Logan express.”
“That’s disgusting. Get me out of here right now.” I try to yank Marshall out the door, but he’s screwed his feet into the floor and doesn’t budge.
“Leave now? Why—the party is just getting started. Look at this…” He motions back over to Logan.
I’m half-afraid to witness anymore of the carnage. I peer around Marshall’s chest only to see Michelle and Lexy pawing all over the golden Oliver.
“I thought you were going to show me something new.” I almost breathe a sigh of relief because I know for a fact Logan’s not really interested in either of them.
“Remember that time I thought Michelle was having your baby, and it was really Brielle knocked up with Drake’s twisted seed?” I give a little chuckle.
Marshall sneers into my stab at humor.
“Observe,” he gravels it out low.
Begrudgingly I glance back at Logan. He looks like a God, with his smile beaming, his face radiating all kinds of outrageous levels of joy—only his eyes are closed and—wait, where the hell are Lexy’s hands anyway?
Michelle climbs up and sits on his shoulders, and I have a feeling things have slipped past the NC 17 portion of evening.
“I don’t know what the hell they’re doing, but please get me out of here.” I go to bury my face in Marshall’s chest just as a dark-haired boy with steel blue eyes catches my gaze, and his face starts in on a slow spreading smile.
“He sees me,” I say mesmerized as I make my way to Gage.
He comes at me with a slow and determined gate, his chest as wide as a wall. I can make out the muscles under his T-shirt as they ripple on through.
Gage pulls back his cheek, and his dimple lights up on the left, melting me on the inside with a pleasure that sweeps away this incurable ache.
Our lips crash in one resplendent exchange, his mouth covering mine with its warmth, but something about his kiss feels resistive on every level.
Marshall yanks me away by the elbow.
“No, now, do refrain from possessing, Ms. Bishop. Should she be apprised of the situation, a head might be required per her specialty.
“Chloe?” I look back at Gage to see him trying to peel Chloe off his person. “He was kissing Chloe?”
The room warps with my words. Logan looks over at me, and, for the first time, I think he actually sees me. He leaps in our direction just as the room reduces to soot.
“Skyla!” I hear his voice echo through the strange chambers of time as Marshall hustles us off to yet another direction.
“He saw me.” I marvel at Marshall as a deep purple wall warbles in and out all around us.
“He did, didn’t he?” Marshall is less than impressed by Logan’s supernatural feat. “Nonetheless, there’s one more thing I need for you to see.”
“What is it?” I take in the creepy environment as it fades to an ethereal space somewhere high above the earth with a nest of lightning rotating above us like an electrically-charged guillotine ready to shred us to pieces.
“The Faction Council has gathered. There’s an announcement to be made in just a few moments.” Marshall zips us toward the tiny blue marble we call home.
A scene appears. We’re in an oversized room, lined with tables full of cookies. The scent of burnt coffee lies thick in the air. I recognize this place as Nicholas Haver’s overgrown barn where the Faction Council meets on Paragon.
“The faction leaders have spoken.” A voice emits from the front, and sitting at a long plastic table is none other than Nicolas himself. “Celestra shall surrender its standing and graft onto its Countenance brothers and sisters. There shall be unity among Nephilim this day.” He gives a little chuckle. “I jest.” His triple chin rolls with delight as he belts out a brief laugh. “There aren’t any more of those poor souls around to graft onto anything—never could hold a candle straight without burning themselves. Let their demise be a lesson to us all. The Countenance must remain supreme. Should we even think of defeating them our annihilation is eminent.”
I gasp at his cowardice.
“Is this true?” I balk at Marshall. “All of Celestra is gone?”
“I’m afraid so. What little Celestra blood remains has been pledged to the Counts,” he whispers before motioning my attention back to the front.
“There is no way around this,” Nicholas begins. “As uncomfortable as it is, we must discuss the plagues.”
“What plagues?” I startle into Marshall at idea of something deadly brewing.
“All of humanity shall undergo a rather brutal pruning. The causalities will be staggering, bodies in the streets with no one left to bury the dead. I’m afraid the future isn’t so bright for the rest of the world now that you’ve selfishly reduced yourself to an unsatisfied gleam in your father’s eye.”
“First, that’s disgusting. And, second, I get your point. Get me home. I’ve obviously got work to do.”
“You seem far more angry than you do relieved to be a help to anyone.”
“I am angry. Only this time my anger is aimed right where it needs to be—at the Counts.”
Marshall blinks us back to the forest behind the Landon house, and a chill grips me until I seize in his arms.
“That was all around awful,” I say, as Logan and Gage blink through my mind.
“That was just the beginning. I would never dare show you the horror that world truly experiences in reality without hope.”
“Is that what I bring?” I look up at him as the sterile blue light of the moon washes out his perfect features.
“Very much so.” Marshall plants a chaste kiss on my forehead. “Merry Christmas, Skyla.”
I reach up on my tiptoes and sear a quick kiss on the side of his cheek. “Merry Christmas, Marshall.”
My room appears around me, and I’m tucked neat in bed. I reach over and turn on the lights before peering under the covers.
I’ve magically donned a red and green barely-there teddy with white stockings and a bright red bow around my left thigh.
A glint of light shimmers outside of my window, and I get out of bed to see the dawn of a new day breaking over Paragon.
All is new again.
There is so much hope in this world. And for the first time in a long while, I’m so glad to be a part of it.
It’s all going to work out in the end.
And if it doesn’t… I let out a deep breath. I’ll have to figure out a way to rewrite the past.
I touch my finger to the red velvet bow wrapped around my thigh. Despite all of his perverse misgivings, I’m sure glad to have a certain Sector by my side.
The window fogs up, and something like a finger draws out an image of a heart over the glass.
Like I said, it’s nice to have a Sector that cares.
I touch my hand to cool glass and that familiar buzz of delight rails through me.
“Merry Christmas, Marshall,” I whisper. “Thank you for giving me hope when I need it.”