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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Williams

Had Me at Halo (First 3 Chapters)

Updated: Mar 22, 2023





Chapter 1


AMARA FAROUQ

While stalking people, I often fantasize about what would happen if they knew I existed.

I picture myself walking alongside them, conversing about the weather or how whiney their kids are. Maybe we’d reminisce about an imaginary past when we had better memories.

That’s something I wonder about my subjects. Would they think I’m funny? Would they like my crooked smile or my thick black hair? Would they like me?

However, I know Liam Evans would like me. I follow the 28.215-year-old man down a woody trail from a distance of precisely 14.322 meters. Crickets buzz within the tall grass, dimly lit by the crescent moon. Trees sway to a silent sonata, shaking their leaves like maracas.

I adore all my subjects. I can’t help it. When you stalk people for as long as I have, the lines between friends and strangers begin to blur. I’ve seen them at their greatest triumphs, but I’ve also watched them eat ice cream straight out of the container while on the toilet. I’ve watched them die, and despite knowing they’re going to a better place (usually), it weighs on my heart every time. But I’ve grown especially fond of Liam.

At first glance, most people would assume Liam is a womanizer—with his fitted clothes and the way his right eyebrow always seems to be slightly cocked. He’s tall with playful blond hair. But you don’t have to know Liam as well as I do to realize he’s a sweetheart. His blue eyes always seem to twinkle, and his perpetual smile is frustratingly infectious. Frequently, I have caught myself grinning when I look at him.

Liam grips his flashlight. Its yellow glow breaches the edge of wilderness. In his other arm, he hauls a couple of hickory logs, freshly cut this morning.

For some reason, he stops and stands silently for a moment. He turns. His gaze pierces through the shadows and lands squarely on me. I halt.

He sees nothing. It’s impossible for him to see me. All guardian angels are invisible.

My job would be difficult if I were visible. Portland, Maine isn’t exactly known for having a rich Arabic demographic. And being a 6-foot-tall woman, I’m not exactly someone who would blend in.

Liam continues to trudge down the path. Puddles splash under his boots. A chilled breeze flutters the wool scarf that shrouds him. To my disappointment, Liam begins whistling a cheery tune. A sin.

Out of thin air, I summon a rubric—a decorative book that has the density of a bowling ball. On the cover it reads ‘Rubric of Human Sins; A Helpful Guide for the Guardian Angel on the Go!’ Every hand-pressed page is embossed with gold lettering as I flip to section Whistling.


Whistling (Children’s Song)………………………………… 4 points

Whistling (Later than 10PM)..…………………………….. 6 points

Whistling (Unsolicited Catcall)…….………………………Straight to Hell


For the life of me, I cannot find an entry that says ‘Whistling (when no one gives a shit)’, so I choose the closest entry—'Whistling (Later than 10PM)’, a deduction of 6 points. 6 points!

Per the process, I’m expected to subtract the points from Liam’s score of 2,011,563 points, but he hasn’t the faintest idea that whistling is a sin, so I ignore it. This kind of indiscretion could get me fired, but I’ve been cheating the system for dozens of humans over the past millennia. As long as I’m not egregious, I’ll never be audited.

At least, not for point tracking.

I vaporize the rubric and use my wings to fly forward, landing gracefully alongside him. To amuse myself, I decide to mimic his walking, pretending we’re two friends enjoying a nightly stroll.

Humans fascinate me. I study them. I learn their fears and their passions. It’s one of the reasons I became a guardian angel. Unlike angels, humans are completely unaware of their own limitations and faults. They’ll go to school for years, spending tens of thousands of dollars for the chance to work a job they have zero applicable knowledge for. They’ll commit to relationships with people they have nothing in common with, and against all odds, they’ll make it work. Yet, despite how absurd they are, they rarely hesitate to dream for better days ahead.

Humans have an interesting culture. Like sarcasm. Sarcasm’s fascinating. Very few angels understand this phenomenon, but I’m starting to grow accustomed. From my limited understanding, it’s a deflection technique to hide insecurities instead of dealing with issues in a healthy way.

“Greetings, Amara.” A voice catches me off guard.

I turn to find Nathan. An Archangel.

As an angel, I’m technically not allowed to hate anyone. Hate is bad. And I certainly wouldn’t say I hate Nathan. Nor would I say I hate the blades in his brown eyes, sharp enough to cut marble. And I don’t hate the fact that everywhere he goes, he wears nothing but a fig leaf (only reserved for Senior Archangels). I’m not allowed to hate those things.

But sometimes. Sometimes. I find myself fantasizing about replacing his fig leaf with poison ivy.

“Hello, Nathan.”

“Please. Call me Nathanael.” He overemphasizes his own name to the point it sounds like a made-up accent. His luscious curls bounce with every step, with long lashes that flutter and pursed lips that pout. I never understood how he gets his umber skin so clear and flawless. There are rumors that his skin care regimen was given by the Gods themselves.

Nathanael.” I curtsy, which I intend to be a joke, but Nathanael seems pleased with the formality.

“I hope you are doing well on this pleasant evening.” He struts towards me.

“Yes. Great. How is your husband, Jonathon?”

“I will ask the questions. And your parents. Are they well?”

Yes.” It’s a challenge to hide my annoyance. “Quite well.”

Nathanael’s sandy pupils flick down to my white slacks. “Your clothing is in violation of the standardized dress code,” he states bluntly.

I frown and tug on the seam of my pant leg so I can inspect it closer. “This is a standardized uniform.”

“Yet poorly fitted. The hem of the right leg must be cuffed 0.23 centimeters. Do you realize your right leg is shorter than your left?”

“Yes. My sister reminds me every Midsummer.”

“How fortunate you are to have a loving sibling,” he says. Let me remind you that angels are not sarcastic.

“Quite fortunate. She’s now seeking promotion to Senior Archangel and—"

“That concludes our allotted 42 seconds of discussion regarding trivial personal matters per the Employee Rapport Building Technical Guide Specification 4.4,” Nathanael interrupts. “We shall conclude this topic and move onto business matters.”

Please.

“You know why I’m here.” Nathanael’s voice deepens, acknowledging his visit is one I’ve dreaded for the past decade. His self-awareness makes me like him a bit more. A bit.

“I do.”

“It gives me no pleasure to say this, but despite your excellent performance metrics, there is one metric that cannot be overlooked—your prediction of soul bonds. Subject after subject, you have failed to predict who they would bond to.”

I remain steadfast, walking alongside my superior. Any sort of reaction would be deducted from my ‘Professionalism Metric’. Or as I like to call it—the ‘Ass Kissing Metric’. And as sad as it sounds, I am quite proud of my ass kissing abilities.

“Despite my lack in predicting soul bonds, there must be some sort of performance training I may enroll in to satisfy management.”

Nathanael shakes his head. “We’ve already enrolled you in several programs. Yet your performance remains unsatisfactory. I’m afraid Liam’s soul bond with Sienna is your last chance at redemption.”

Currently, Liam is bonded to a lovely woman named Sienna. The moment I saw Liam’s gaze fall on her three years ago, I knew they were soulmates. I entered the prediction right away. Within only five hours, a soul bond was formed—a floating river of green connecting Liam’s heart to Sienna’s. Invisible to the human eye, but perceivable by angels.

When first formed, the soul bond was among the strongest I have ever witnessed. I was confident that my prediction was going to be correct.

Nathanael juts his chin forward, as though the Earth shall be honored to feel his toes. “I have received news—Liam’s soul bond is weakening.”

“A minor setback, I assure you.”

“I pray to the Gods Daa and Dee you are correct. For if that soul bond breaks, your guardianship shall be revoked.”


. . .







Chapter 2


LIAM EVANS

What a perfect night for a walk.

Chill, not too chill though. A cluster of fireflies rush past me, like they’re in a hurry or something. Overhead, the tree branches crisscross, making the sky look like mosaic tiles.

The trail opens to a large field. Here, the grass is so thick, it feels like you’re wading through water.

On the top of the distant hill is a quaint wood cabin. A trail of smoke trickles from the chimney. Warm light pours from the windows. It’s a beautiful house, but it’s nothing compared to what stands on the front porch.

Sienna Mires is huddled under a cardigan two sizes too large. In the moonlight, her skin is bright enough to glow. Anytime I meet her gaze, my breath catches. She always looks like you interrupted her in the middle of a deep prayer, even though she’s atheist. However, the mere sight of her has made me into a believer; I’ll never stop worshipping her coffee-colored hair or her reluctant smirk.

“Glad to see you’re alive,” Sienna says as I climb up the porch. She crosses her arms, shivering.

“Had to get some more firewood.”

Sienna’s nostrils flare a bit. “The fire’s not really helping. Can’t we just turn the furnace on?”

“Yeah, sure.” I shrug.

“I can’t believe I picked this place for our romantic getaway. It’s so freezing here.”

“We have each other at least.”

“It smells like the dumpster behind an antique store.”

“That…” I consider for a second. “Well, there’s nothing we can do about that.”

Sienna rolls her eyes playfully. Even the smallest things she does are beautiful. Since I’m watching her so closely, we have an impromptu staring contest, which is something we do from time to time. We never take it seriously, it’s kind of this strange inside joke between us. I can’t explain why it’s funny, but it is. Once we start the game, it’s harder to not laugh than not blink.

When my composure breaks, I shake my head, chuckling. “I can’t wait to marry you.”

Sienna’s shoulders drop. She looks up at me with a wincing grimace. “About that. Can we postpone a couple weeks? The bakery just booked a huge event for that day. At first, I said no but they offered 50% above the original quote.”

“Wow.” I raise my eyebrows. Her words pinch my heart. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Sienna mutters. “I’m so sorry.”

“I was really looking forward to eloping.”

“Me too,” Sienna groans as though she shares my pain. “But I couldn’t pass it up.”

“I know.”

Sienna’s bakery is her baby. Most her time has been dedicated to her business and it’s just starting to turn a serious profit. It’s an exciting time for her. One of the many things I love about her is how driven she is. She took a business from scratch and made it successful on her own. Not too many people can pull that off.

“I mean,” I say. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m incredibly disappointed that we have to push back the date, but I can start making the calls tomorrow.”

Thank you. You’re the best.” Sienna exhales with relief and gives me a kiss.

“So,” I say forcefully. “You ready?”

Sienna raises a suspicious eyebrow. “Ready for…?”

“This.” I scoop her off the ground as she yelps. Her hands cling around my neck. Within a second, I have her neatly cradled in my arms.

“What are you doing!” Sienna screams.

“Carrying my future bride to bed. We got to practice, y’know.”

“How presumptuous,” Sienna teases, never missing a chance to be sarcastic. “Just so you know, that dress will have a lot of buttons.”

“Oh, that won’t stop me.”

“No?” Sienna laughs as she opens the front door for me. “Now that you mention it, very little has stopped us in the past.”

I shake my head. “Remember dinner with your parents at that Italian restaurant?”

“The bathroom was right there,” Sienna feigns defensively. “Practically begging us to sneak inside.”

I carefully usher her through the door frame like the royalty she is. Give her a crown and she’d fit the part perfectly.

“Wait. Wait.” Sienna gestures towards the right. “I have a glass of wine in the kitchen.”

“To the kitchen!” I announce.

Sienna plucks the glass of cheap cabernet from the countertop, sipping it while staring. Even years later, she still gives me a look like she’s trying to figure me out.

“I love you,” we both say at the same time, then grinning, satisfied with our synchronization. That’s what happens when you’ve loved someone for years. Your minds merge into one.

On my way to the bedroom, I flip the heat on the thermostat. The furnace groans in protest. After some complaining, it sputters with a pop and roars to life.

We collapse on the bed together. Sienna’s hair spills onto the covers as I fall next to her. Our noses touch.

“Oh, my strong prince,” she says mockingly, but with a touch of sincerity. She strokes my hair gently, as I kiss her neck. Her lips are fresh with the taste of fermented grapes. Chilled like morning dew.

I kiss down her neck and over her shoulders. My hands find sanctuary with the rise and fall of her body against my touch. I stroke her up and down, cradling her. Loving her fully. Romancing her feels more than just foreplay. It feels ceremonial. Almost like the only way you can be worthy enough is if you offer all of yourself, sacrificing everything that surrounds you, so it’s just you and her captured in a single moment.

Sienna closes her eyes and becomes entranced, which in turn, entrances me. We find ourselves lost within each other, as though we found a place infinitely large, but surprisingly intimate.

I prop myself up on the bed and get a good look at her. Her. My fiancée. “You’re the most important part of my life.”

Sienna becomes still, soaking in the words. Without warning she kisses me again. Her fingers linger on my jawline, drawing me deeper underneath the covers.


. . .





Chapter 3


AMARA FAROUQ

Gods Daa and Dee. Today was a long day.

After dealing with Nathanael and his evaluation of Liam’s soul bond, I was exhausted. The moment Liam drifted to sleep, I returned to the Afterlife, riding a PegasusShare back home.

One thing you should know about angels is that our families live together, which means our houses are quite large to accommodate everyone. It also means I live with my parents (yes, that must seem so pathetic to humans, but I assure you—this is normal), who are wonderful, wonderful people. I love them more than anything in the world. The only problem though, is… well, angels are dicks.

I walk along the pathway leading to the front portico of our fifteen-bedroom house—Tuscan style with stucco walls and wooden shutters. The roofline is wavy with the red clay shingles. I wave to my Uncle Hassan who tends to the bushes dotting along the structure.

As soon as I enter, I’m struck with a myriad of sensations. The smell of Ommi’s lavender cakes permeates the air (which are worth dying for. Seriously, when you die, please visit me and I’ll give you one). My younger cousins all collectively work on a single painting, splashing colors onto a canvas. Meanwhile, my nephew Omar is fine tuning his piano concerto, ensuring every note is placed precisely where it needs to be.

The Midsummer is not for another twenty-four days and yet, everyone is frantic. I shouldn’t be surprised though. Every Midsummer is like this. All the villagers are obsessed with getting their projects perfected to show off in the festival.

“Aunt Amara!” my tiny nephew Omar stops playing his piano to run up and give me a hug. His skinny arms wrap around my thighs.

My heart gushes. What a sweetheart. His hug is enough to dissolve the tension in my shoulders. I kneel next to him. “Oh, you sweet boy. How is your baroque concerto?”

“Terrible!” He throws up his arms dramatically. “The mordents I play are inverted 2.1% of the time! It’s awful! Awful, I say!”

“Huh, well…” I am unsure how to comfort his toccata and fugue state. “Don’t give up.”

“Alright,” he grumbles, disappointed with my advice. “By the way, your elbows are dry. They look like used pencil erasers. You should lotion them.”

“Oh. Thank you.”

“Omar?” A familiar voice interrupts us with its singsong radiance. The owner of the voice practically saunters into the entry way. My older sister—Yadira.

Yadira looks like smoke from a candle recently blown out—wispy and practically floating off the floor. Even when she’s standing still, there’s a movement and charge to her stance.

With how well dressed she is, you’d think the Midsummer is today—her abaya is dark blue with gold patterns, fluttering behind her like she has her own personal breeze that follows her around. She steps with precision toward me.

Yadira is the most perfect person I know. Everything about her is lovely. From the way she stylizes her hair to the soft smile that plays delicately on her lips.

With the prowess of her mind, Yadira has made the Farouq name proud. There are even rumors that she once bested Nathanael in a game of Chess-Golf (you only make a move by getting a hole in one). Obviously, those rumors are false. She bested him twice.

For these reasons, she is the Matriarch of the Farouqs. In addition—a well-respected Archangel.

“Oh!” Yadira grins. “Amara! You’re home.”

We hug, although I’m admittingly disappointed that Yadira found me. I was really looking forward to having some alone time in my room.

She gives me a kiss on the cheek. Even that is perfect—the placement, the amount of pressure she uses, the length of time, the amount of moisture on her lips. All of it. Perfect. Lords Almighty, is she getting tutored for kissing people on the cheek? It sounds absurd but I wouldn’t put it past her.

Yadira smirks down at little Omar. “Now, why have you stopped practicing your concerto?”

“I wanted to say ‘hi’ to Aunt Amara,” Omar stares up at me with round eyes. “I told her that her elbows are too dry. They are too dry, aren’t they, Aunt Archangel Yadira?”

Aunt Archangel Yadira. I resist a laugh of disbelief.

“Let us see...” Yadira takes my wrist and turns my arm towards her. “You are quite correct. They are certainly dry. Amara may borrow my lotion.”

If I knew my elbows were going to get this much attention, I would’ve put nipple tassels on them. Give them that little extra pizzaz as humans call it.

“Now.” Yadira crouches down to Omar’s level. “Run along and practice your concerto. And don’t you dare use that pedal for Bach! It sounds like a donkey giving birth to a tennis racket.”

Omar bounces on his toes with excitement. “Oh yes. That is excellent feedback! Thank you!” He rushes back to his piano, hands pounding on the keys.

After spending so long on Earth, sometimes I forget that this is a normal interaction in the Afterlife. Here, criticisms are swapped like small talk.

Angels strive for perfection. It is believed that since only the Gods can be perfect, you must strive for perfection to align yourself with them. The more you look, act and think in ways that are considered perfect, the more holy you’re perceived. When an angel criticizes you, that is their way of demonstrating affection. So, when Yadira says my yellow robe makes me look like a bloated highlighter, I smile and thank her for the blessings.

Yadira straightens herself and allows her stare to fall on me. Habitually, I straighten my own back as well.

She sighs, as though the sight of me is a breath of fresh air. Yadira loops her arm into mine and leads me through the home. “Oh. I’m so happy to see you, habibti.”

Habibti. Yadira’s term of endearment for me ever since we were children. Used for me alone.

The name is bittersweet to hear. A symbol of what we had and a reminder of what we lost.

Whenever she calls me ‘habibti’, it reminds me of the times we were children—a time when we couldn’t last five minutes apart. Anywhere one of us went, the other would follow. Every night, she would sneak into my room and crawl into bed with me. We’d make fart noises into each others’ hands and giggle like we lost our minds. Those memories are so distant now, it feels like I’m imagining someone else’s life with someone else’s sister.

Everything is different now. Yadira’s an Archangel. And Archangels do not make fart noises with their hands.

Of course, Yadira and I still love each other, but there’s a barrier between us. Sometimes I wonder if she misses those times too and that’s why she keeps calling me ‘habibti’, like a thinly veiled nudge. Several times, I have brought up our past, but she would simply roll her eyes and say something along the lines of ‘we were unusual children’.

I suppose she’s right. It wasn’t normal for siblings to be as attached as we were.

Yadira pulls me closer as she leads. “I have something I would like to discuss with you.”

“Regarding my dress for the Midsummer.”

Yes,” Yadira says pointedly, as she leads me into the project den—a cozy space with low ceilings, where multicolored paints and various textures hang from the walls like a rainbow bohemian studio.

In the corner, Mama is fixated on a large painting. She waves her brush over the floor, like she’s winding up to make her next paint stroke. Her artwork… I cannot bring myself to describe. For it is so sexual and so explicit, that I feel the need to dunk my brain in bleach. Without expressing too much detail, the painting features a singular male making very efficient use of both his wings.

Yadira and I continue to the left side of the room, where a mannequin stands. Strips of sheer fabric are pinned, forming the rough shape of a dress. Although the term dress might be generous. Red cotton ball may be a more apt description.

We stand in front of my project. Yadira holds her chin with a pinched expression, as though my dress is an abstract painting that she’s desperately trying to figure out the meaning of.

“Now.” Yadira makes a claw gesture towards the dress. “I’m not an expert on fashion, but this looks sloppy.”

“It is sloppy for now.” I nod in agreement. “It’s simply part of the process.”

“If you say so.” Yadira waggles her eyebrows. “To be clear, this will be an angelic style dress?”

“Yes. It won’t be a human style.”

“Good.” Yadira raises her nose with satisfaction. “Not that I dislike human dresses. I simply want us to avoid previous mistakes.”

I know exactly what previous mistakes she’s referring to. “Not a human dress,” I confirm.

“Speaking of humans,” Mama says, with her back remaining on us. “Did you hear the latest news of Grace?”

Ah yes, the village’s favorite person to gossip—Grace. If you thought I was an outcast, Grace is on an entirely different level. She was caught kissing a human in her bedroom. Grace’s own mother reported her to the Angelic Resources department. Quite harsh, in my opinion.

“I have not!” Yadira exclaims, never missing a chance on the latest gossip.

Mama dabs the canvas. “She was demoted from Amarone Manager. She’s now a technician.”

“My Gods.” Yadira shakes her head with disapproval. “What did she expect though? Of course, there’s going to be backlash.”

I feel bad for Grace, but Yadira has a point. Even though it’s not illegal, an angel being romantically involved with a human is highly taboo. It can destroy the reputation of yourself and even your family members. There is no faster way to commit social suicide.

Grace knew the risks, yet she decided to indulge anyway. Not that I’m one to judge. What angels do with their lives are their own business, but when the consequences are so steep, I can’t understand why Grace would take that chance.

“Could you imagine?” Yadira looks at me with morbid fascination. “Dating a human?”

I shake my head and wince. “No. Not at all.”

“Neither can I.” Yadira scoffs. “Anyway, I will leave you to your Midsummer project.”

I pause, unsure if I should say what I want to say next. “Yadira?”

“Yes?”

I look into her gorgeous brown eyes and force a thin smile. “I love you.”

Yadira releases a long exhale, her knees buckling like I just melted her heart. “Oh, habibti. I love you.”

She gives me a tight squeeze and we hold the embrace for a few seconds. It feels nice. Nostalgic. Like the way things used to be.

Yadira breaks free and smiles sweetly. “The hem of your right leg must be cuffed 0.23 centimeters. No doubt from you walking like a hunchback.”

I force myself to mechanically nod. This is how angels say ‘bye’ to close friends and family. Before you leave, you are expected to leave a final bit of criticism.

I clear my throat. “Praise be to you, Yadira.”

She lightly shrugs as though to say it’s the least I can do. “Now it’s your turn.”

I hang my head. “I’m not in the mood. It’s been such a long day.”

Amara,” Yadira warns with a stern face. “I demand that you criticize me this instant.”

I groan and stare at her, searching my mind for the most insignificant thing to nitpick. “Your voice is 5.4% more nasally than usual. You sound like you’re talking through a kazoo.”

Yadira massages her throat with a big smile. “You’re absolutely right! Thank you!” With that, she leaves. I stand in silence, my stomach churning slightly with sickness.

This is why I decided to be a guardian angel.

I love Yadira, but being around her is exhausting. I can’t keep up with her.

Example: last week, she decided that her speaking skills were too concise and clear, as she was worried about being perceived as unapproachable by her direct reports. So she asked me to help her ‘muddle up’ her dialect, explaining that I was an expert at word discombobulation (I have no idea what she meant exactly by that). We spent two entire evenings practicing. By the time it was over, I was ready to cut out my own tongue.

For the sake of our relationship, it is imperative that I take breaks from her. Otherwise, I’d lose my sanity.

Which is depressing when I think about it. Yadira is the most important part of my life, yet I can’t stand to be around her for longer than an hour at a time.

It’s technically not Yadira’s fault. Yadira is doing exactly what an angel should do. She’s constantly looking to grow and insists that everyone else grows around her. The world’s greatest cheerleader and coach rolled into one perfect Archangel.

I am the one who resists expectations of our community. Apathetic to my own apathy.

It’s my fault that Yadira and I drifted apart.

An alert reaches my work phone. A quick siren. It breaks me from my thoughts.

I take my phone and check.

Oh no. Gods. This can’t be right.

The notification is regarding Liam and Sienna.

Their soul bond broke.

Ibn al Kalb. This will terminate my guardianship. I’ve invested millions of hours into this job. I can’t lose it due to one soul bond.

If my guardianship is terminated, then I won’t get to escape my family anymore. Yadira won’t hesitate to give me a job working with her at the Holy Bastion. And if my guardianship gets revoked, I won’t have much of a choice—I’ll have to spend every single hour of every single day alongside my sister.

My incredible, beautiful, loving, wonderfully annoying sister.

I must avoid that at all costs. There are ways I can still salvage my career. I can appeal the status of Liam’s soul bond. It would be unconventional but technically allowable by the process. Perhaps I can negotiate a compromise and save my job.

On my phone, I scroll through the notification.

My heart sinks even further. It feels like I swallowed lead.

It gets worse.

Liam and Sienna have died.


. . .


151 views2 comments

2 Comments


bri.earlley
May 26, 2023

Wait! What?! They died?! You tease! You terrible, wretched, horrible, wonderful tease! LOL you got me! I’m hooked! Can’t wait to read the rest!

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Natalie Guest
Natalie Guest
Mar 22, 2023

Soo cute! I love Amara she's so funny and sweet. And god, I wish I had a boyfriend like Liam, the little illustrations make him extra sexy. And what a way to end! THEY DIED?! Can't wait for the pre-order!

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