As she slipped into the last row of the auditorium, behind an overweight couple with identical AAs draped over the backs of their folding chairs, she scanned the room for Carl’s wings, the blue-black Nevermores that stood out among all the whites and browns. But he wasn’t here either.

He hadn’t been around all morning, not at AM stretches, or in the lobby where they usually met before breakfast. Professor Golding had already begun his presentation. He put up a slide, an anatomical cross-section of a common barn swallow, and began pointing out the functions of various muscle groups.

“You can plainly see the myriad of structural cues taken directly from the originals,” he said, following the line of the wing with his laser pointer. Even in this low light, Deb couldn’t help but notice the couple in front of her, the way their feathers matted in spots, the tips dingy and frayed, as if they’d been dragged along the floor. She was glad she hadn’t let herself go like that, that she still spent at least an hour a day ruffling and preening, that she soaked her tips in a mild bleach mixture twice weekly as recommended. Carl had admired them, tracing the ridge of her mantle to the place they connected behind her shoulder blades. 

“Luminous,” he’d called them, though Deb knew they’d long since lost that glossy newness of the first few months. Still, she was flattered. Besides her surgeon and a couple of kids who’d plucked at her on the street, no one had touched them really, and never that way.

Professor Golding switched the slide to a diagram of the circulatory system and began talking about blood flow. “The avian heart is proportionately as much as 40% larger than the mammal heart, and it moves more blood per beat. The more skeptical of my colleagues have argued that our hearts were not built to accommodate added appendages of this size.” His laser pointer circled the attachment sites.