34. BACKUP GUARDIAN
Multicolored lights spread from tent to tent, with the inconstant and festive twinkle of the buzz around as they push through minstrels, shopkeepers and hundreds of attendees going back and forth to grab a glance at the games, the crafts and the sweets before them.
From his position up above, he watches firsthand how the cotton candy flies from a machine to a long stick into the shape of a fluffy pink cloud with purple specks, and once it’s delivered to a person, the whole process is repeated now with different colors, yellow and green, orange and blue. He watches the method, fascinated, while wishing to have a cloud in his hands, eat a piece of heaven and taste its flavor.
The next stick is formed, completely white without specks, and once it’s ready, it starts its way up to his height, like a cloud in the sky, floating. He grabs some and takes it to his mouth, melting instantly. It’s sweet, as much as he would imagine clouds to be.
“Do you like it?”
He looks down at the man who carries him on his shoulders, a kind smile and eyes as sweet as the piece of cloud he’s eating. He smiles in response and offers to share a part of that piece of heaven. It belongs to them now. The man accepts amid laughs and they both end up with white tongue and fingers.
“Now I want to climb up to heaven,” he says, pointing to a huge ferris wheel that rises several feet above them.
“Maybe someday, when you grow up, but for now it’s not safe for you,” the man answers without losing the softness in his voice. “Let’s go back home to Mom. She must be waiting for us.”
He nods with resignation, and while they turn around to go across the tents again, he settles with watching the flashing lights up close and hearing the organ grinder melodies from the fair they’re leaving behind.
Demian awoke with a start, pale and sweaty, looking around to make sure where he was. In his room. The light of dawn was starting to creep through his window, announcing the new day.
He sat up, wishing everything had been just a dream, that out of his room he would find his father, ready to go on another trip or returning from one. But it wouldn’t happen. Not anymore. He walked to the window and looked outside, the sun was rising on the horizon, making the garden seem like a green ocean. His eyes fell on the spot where he found his father. The same place . . . It had been the same place.
He put his hands on the window frame and noticed the bandages. He took them off right away and looked at his knuckles, they had very slight marks, almost unnoticeable. He’d done it the night before, after spending the last few minutes with his father.
Once he went out of the emergency room and announced to everyone that his father had died, he didn’t even wait for them to say anything nor come close to try to comfort him. He just walked steadily past them and left the hospital, turning towards the closed alley to the side. Once there, he stood in front of the wall and started beating at it with his fists nonstop, not even pausing to catch a breath. He just had to vent everything until his thoughts would fly out of his mind or his hands got smashed.
He didn’t know when he stopped and leaned against the wall, sliding to the ground, feeling shattered. His fists were covered in blood, but he didn’t care. He couldn’t remember either at what moment he looked up and saw Marianne standing out the alley. Everything seemed unreal then, like a delusion. She looked serious and somewhat guilty, as if she would somehow blame herself, though he didn’t trust the way he perceived the world at the time. She had turned her face and said something to someone, but he couldn’t remember anything after that.
He closed his hands tightly and turned to look out the window. The sunlight was already advancing on the garden and began to sneak in through the window, except for a grassy area that stood in the shade, as if the light couldn’t touch it. He drew the curtain and left it closed to keep the sun from getting into his room.
Once she put on her uniform, Marianne went straight to the attic and opened the door without bothering to knock. Samael was sitting on the mattress, with his legs folded in a thoughtful stance. He didn’t seem surprised to see her enter that way, but said nothing, just stared and waited for her to speak.
“Are you going to stay on the self-pity wagon? Okay, fine, the guys already know you’re an angel, show them nothing has to change.”
“They didn’t just look at me like I was some kind of freak,” Samael uttered with a pained expression, “but they thought it too. It won’t be the same dynamic that we had when they thought I was human . . . Now they look at me like I’m from a different species . . . something closer to the demons we fight.”
“They just need to get used to it, give them some time,” Marianne said, staying quiet the next few minutes. It was clear that it wasn’t the only thing she intended to say, so she bit her lip and just let out the rest. “ . . . Demian’s father died.” Samael didn’t seem surprised at all, as if already expecting it. “Why? What did I do wrong? I created a substitute gift just like the others! Why did he have to die?”
“I should’ve told you. The Resurrection gift is not like the others. Its function is to bring back to life the body of its host and is only activated once it loses all its functions,” Samael explained. “Once the gift leaves him . . . ”
“ . . . He dies automatically,” Marianne completed with a choked voice.
“By giving him a surrogate gift, all you did was postponing his death for a few hours. You can replace for a while a gift acting as a feature of the soul . . . but you can’t completely support the vital functions of a whole body when that specific gift took entire control of it. It had stopped being a secondary part and became the main one, which kept him alive. Maybe if it had been taken away before his functions would stop for the first time, he would’ve remained alive longer.”
Marianne tried to stay strong, but the idea that they could do nothing for Demian’s father made her sick. She felt nauseous.
“Does that mean we can’t give him back his gift once we recover all? Wouldn’t it be possible to keep his body and once the gifts are available again . . . ?”
Samael looked sympathetically at her.
“Even if you decide to do that, you can’t stop the natural deterioration of a body without its vital functions. The Resurrection gift makes a body work again, but doesn’t repair it.”
“But . . . you could . . . with your healing power . . . ” she insisted, forcefully trying to find a solution.
“Marianne, I can’t repair decaying tissue after that long. Don’t insist on it,” Samael replied and she kept silent, really affected by it. “I’m sorry.”
“ . . . I must go to school. See you later.”
She left before Samael could say anything else. She went down the kitchen stairs and stopped after seeing her father sitting at the table with Loui.
“Oh, good morning,” he greeted her with a smile as if he had never left home. “I just came back early this morning. I hope I didn’t wake you up.”
“Look what he brought me!” Loui announced, showing proudly an entirely white box with a single symbol on the lid. “It’s the ‘Battle of the Gods’ movie that includes the latest video game and a new console. It’s so cool!”
“Good for you,” Marianne said, holding back the urge to shout at her father. Looking at him, all she could think of was the voice she heard over the phone. The woman’s voice.
“Wanna have breakfast with us? I brought muffins and stuffed donuts.”
“No, thanks,” she curtly replied, passing him and taking an apple from the fruit basket. “I’ll eat on my way to school.”
And without adding anything else, she just left.
The way to school seemed endless, her feet felt heavy and her head spun. The rest of the gift owners still had a chance, there was hope for them, but not for Demian’s father. Why did it have to be him? Why did they lack the power to get the gift out of the vessel? As much as she wanted to give it a try, restore his gift and bring him back to life, Samael was right, his body would end up with permanent damage by then. Besides, she couldn’t imagine herself telling Demian at the funeral to keep his father’s body in formaldehyde, in a freezer or something like that without further explanation, he would think her insane or realize she had something to do, thus making the connection between her and the Angel Warriors, which wouldn’t only endanger their identity but also him once he learned the truth.
Her head kept throbbing. She had too many things to think about and hadn’t even had the chance to find out about the guy in the gray hoodie. She stopped. The guy with the gray hoodie! How could she totally overlook a detail of that magnitude? She seemed to remember having seen him before in the distance, like a flash of a mirage. She came to think of it as just a figment of her imagination, but now that she had a closer look, it had taken real validity. He existed. And yet she had been unable to see his face or rather, he hadn’t allowed her. Why would he run? And then the way he disappeared . . . she even tried to hold his arm and just went through him like it was made of steam. Maybe Samael would have a better idea about it.
She stopped in the corner of the school and looked towards the side where Demian usually arrived, but she doubted he would appear that day after what happened. She forced herself to continue until someone slid an arm around her shoulder and shook her up.
“I just heard! It’s awful!” Kristania’s sorrowful face appeared beside her, taking the liberty to hold her shoulders as if comforting her. “About Demian’s father dying so out of the blue, oh my god! Everybody is talking about it already, especially with the unbelievable similarities. So disturbing! Poor Demian!”
“Similarities? What are you talking about?”
“The way his father died. They say he fell off the balcony, isn’t that right? Well, his mother died the same way,” Kristania said, forcing her to slow her steps. “Those who sometimes walked by his house when she was still alive, say they always saw her standing in the balcony, wearing her best dresses like she wanted everyone to admire her. One morning, Demian entered his parents’ room and when he didn’t see his mother in bed, went to the balcony and found her lying down there on the grass, with her eyes still open. His dad found him right there on the balcony hours later, staring at his mother in complete shock. He didn’t speak weeks after that.”
Marianne felt a lump in her throat. Now she understood why the subject of his mother affected him that much. And to think there were sometimes she acted like all misfortunes were exclusive to her without stopping to think there were those who had gone through worse, like Demian who had witnessed both his parents die.
When they had found him in that alley next to the hospital, his knuckles were covered in blood and he was in such a state of shock that he that didn’t even speak, just stared blankly at them and stayed like that the whole time while they took him home, not uttering a word. Maybe the situation made him relive what happened to his mother.
“What do you think? That given his backstory, he might shut off again as he did after his mother’s death?” Kristania asked, noticing her brooding gesture.
“Of course not. He’s no longer a child,” she replied flatly. However, after the way she had seen him the day before, she had some reservations.
The day went slow and uninteresting, and the only thing they could hear in the corridors was about the death of Demian’s father, which wouldn’t be entirely out of context, if not for the malicious rumors that began to run. Most of them were about the incredible coincidence between both his parents’ deaths and the fact that he was present, suggesting that he was in some way involved. Some people didn’t need the Malice gift to be rotten inside, Marianne thought, feeling disgusted by those rumors.
“Does anyone know anything about Demian?” Lilith asked after their classes ended.
“He didn’t come to school today,” Mitchell said, following them.
“His father just died yesterday. I guess it’s normal to miss school.” Angie shrugged.
“It’s just horrible! I still can’t believe what’s happening. We can’t release the gifts unless they’re all complete, Demian’s father dies despite having a surrogate gift and Samuel is an angel . . . how are we supposed to react to all of this?” Lilith blurted out, feeling overwhelmed.
“An angel . . . Now I understand why he acted so strange. A bloody angel!”
“That’s why he was always so close to Marianne, being his guardian angel and all.”
“No wonder he was so protective of her ,” Mitchell added.
“What about us? Don’t we deserve a sexy angel to protect us too? I want mine, it’s not fair!” Lilith complained.
“Could you stop talking as if I wasn’t here?” Marianne protested. “If he didn’t want you to know the truth, it was because he was afraid you would react exactly the way you are doing it right now. He’s still the same person you met, nothing has changed.”
The others fell silent, as if granting her the reason.
“ . . . Except that it has. I could no longer behave with him like before, it would be like . . . being in front of the Pope or something like that.”
Marianne sighed and decided to stop arguing. They made their way towards the intersection and heard a couple of girls talking to one side.
“I heard the fortune he’ll inherit is huge. His father was president of Dono Electrics, one of the largest electronic enterprises, so there could be motivation.”
“But doesn’t he have a sister? They would have to share it.”
“Then maybe she should be careful from now on . . . ”
“How can you talk like that about someone who’s just lost his father?” Marianne lashed out against those girls. “He hasn’t even been dead over a day and everyone feels entitled to comment and spread malicious rumors! And people believing them are the worst!”
Lilith quickly grabbed and pulled her away from those girls who looked terrified, fearing she would jump on them and chew their heads off, while several other students passed by, watching the scene with curiosity.
“Wow, I thought you’d go all berserk on them if I didn’t stop you.”
“You should’ve let her, it would have been quite a sexy show,” Mitchell said, smiling and cocking his head as if imagining the scene. “ . . . I could have put the mud in my mind.”
Marianne freed herself from Lilith and stepped on Mitchell, leaving him hopping on one foot.
“I’m not in the mood!” she spat, getting ahead and walking out of there. They followed her, careful not to ignite her rage.
“You don’t have your bodyguard with you today, Belgina?”
“My mom said it wasn’t necessary anymore.”
“I suppose she has already received the results of your tests,” Angie conjectured.
“It said I have nothing, I’m in perfect health.”
“Tests? What are you talking about?” Mitchell asked, trying to keep up as he limped behind them.
“Don’t you know? Belgina suddenly fainting made her mother suspicious and took her to the doctor. She didn’t let you near her because she thought you were to blame,” Angie said robotically.
“Me? But how could I have been to blame for that? It makes no sense.”
“She thought she was preg-gers,” Lilith whispered to his hear, leaving him stiff as a statue.
“ . . . What? WHAT?”
The coffee shop was full packed despite what happened and, in addition to the other waiter, Mankee also had to come out of the kitchen, carrying orders as if each plate was attached to a time bomb.
“Oh, I’m glad you came! Here, this is for table four and the milkshakes for table six,” Mankee said, handing the tray to Lilith even though she seemed at a loss. “You wanted a job, right? Demian said yesterday you would be waitress.”
“Ah! But . . . was I supposed to start today?” Mankee snorted and leaned again to take the tray from her hands. “No, no, no, it’s okay! I’ll do it! . . . Look at me, I have a job!”
She went strutting around, school bag and all, looking for the tables from the orders.
“Any news from Demian?” Marianne asked once Mankee seemed to be free.
“He called in the morning. Just said he was going to miss a few days and I should take care of everything . . . I really appreciate the trust, but . . . I don’t know how he expects me to handle all of this. I was just a waiter up until last week, there are times when I feel like I’m going to explode from the stress.”
“If it’s okay with you I could tell Samuel to come help you, he doesn’t do much in the mornings anyway,” Marianne proposed.
“Uh . . . maybe . . . that’s not a good idea,” Mankee replied hesitantly, as if looking for some excuse. “I don’t think this kind of work is for . . . an angel.”
“Oh, come on! Would you stop it? He’s not a monster, stop acting like he is or like he’s killed someone!” Marianne raised her voice, forcing him back a few steps.
“You can bring him tomorrow morning, I’ll explain to him what to do!” Mankee conceded, just to avoid getting her even more riled, though she continued puffing.
“I’ll see you all tonight at Lucianne’s,” she said, opting to leave the place.
On her way back home, she had the strong feeling of being followed once again. She tried to ignore it and chalked it up to the tension she’d been feeling lately, but when she reached her neighborhood, seemingly deserted, she thought she heard footsteps other than her own, so she stopped and turned around. There was nothing. Flustered, she continued her way, only this time faster until she got to the front door and slammed it close. She couldn’t hear anything else outside.
She sighed and proceeded to announce that she was home. No one answered. She went to the kitchen first and saw a note from her father saying that they had gone to the hospital.
As she was about to go upstairs, the newspaper over the kitchen table caught her eye. It was extended, with a picture of Demian’s father in the front page, dressed as neat as always, shaking hands with another man, perhaps sealing a business deal or something like that. The headline read ‘Important businessman dies under mysterious circumstances’. She felt that knot in her throat again.
She ran her eyes quickly through the note. It mentioned his wife, who died seven years ago in similar circumstances, and speculation had been made at the time about his possible liability in her death, which he always denied saying he was out of town at the time and no evidence was ever found either. Next to the note there was a photo of the woman.
A picture in the balcony, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, looking to the horizon. It seemed taken from the distance, out of the house grounds. There was something about her that was undoubtedly alluring.
The note continued, describing the terrible similarities between both deaths and listing the names of the family members who survived them, only their two teenage kids. They were all by themselves now.
She couldn’t keep reading. Left the newspaper where it was and went upstairs. She decided to knock on the door first and open it. Samael lay on the mattress with his eyes closed, in the same position as the previous days.
The first thing she thought was that he had fallen again into that sort of dream trance he couldn’t wake up from, so she shook him up to make sure, but he opened his eyes quickly, causing her to jolt.
“I’m awake,” he said, sitting up while she tried to calm down.
“You almost scared me to death! What were you trying to do?”
“I haven’t been able to sleep since yesterday. Perhaps I overloaded the flow of information from the Superior realm. What if I can’t go back to sleep anymore? What if they no longer send me new knowledge? There are still so many things I need to know.”
“Stop, stop, stop! I don’t know what you’re talking about. Flow of information from the Superior realm? What does it have to do with the two days of sleeping marathon?” Marianne asked and he then explained what he had discovered while sleeping and the pills he had taken from her room. “ . . . So, that’s how you knew the gifts couldn’t be extracted from the containers and could only be released until they’re all together?”
Samael nodded gloomily.
“They send me incomplete information and I don’t know why. What will I do if I can’t sleep anymore? I’ll stop getting the answers I need to help you all.”
“Stop torturing yourself with that. You haven’t been able to sleep because you haven’t been awake for more than a day,” Marianne assured him. “Now listen, I forgot to tell you something after all what happened. When you showed up . . . did you get to see the gray figure in front of me?” Samael denied with his head. “So . . . was I the only one who saw it?”
“What gray figure are you talking about?”
“I don’t know. I really have no idea what this is.” Marianne sighed, lost in her thoughts, trying to shed light on its relevance. “ . . . All I know is that I’ve seen it before, at least caught a glimpse of it in the distance, like a fleeting mirage, though I brushed it off at first, thinking it was a refractory effect . . . but it seemed too real yesterday. It stopped me before I hit the ground. At first, I thought it was you, but when I looked up . . . I only saw a gray hood concealing its face. It didn’t say a word, just fled right away and when I tried to stop it . . . my hand went through it like a hologram.”
“What did you feel?” Samael asked, trying to ponder her words.
“ . . . I don’t know that, either. I was confused, and it was totally unexpected. And then, the way it disappeared . . . I wouldn’t know how to explain it.”
Samael kept quiet for a few minutes, thoughtful.
“Will you tell me what you’re thinking or will I have to settle on seeing you mulling with a lost stare?”
“I’m sorry, I’m trying to go through the knowledge I have implanted by now, but I can’t find anything remotely similar to what you described. I would have to see it myself.”
“Alright, then,” she said, taking a breath. “I’ll let you enter my memories. This time only.”
Samael knew how much she disliked when he read her mind, so she had to be really eager to know more about this strange apparition. He straightened in front of her and looked into her eyes, deep into her mind and beyond her current thoughts, crossing the moment with the newspaper in the kitchen, the coffee shop with her friends —heard them talking about him, as if he were present, they couldn’t see him the same way, they said—, he went further back, beyond walking to school, meeting with her father in the kitchen, going up the attic and foremost the alley. Demian with bloodied fists, the hospital, the lake lights and finally back to the garden. Marianne had fallen into the arms of a mysterious figure in gray and right there, he paused the memory. He looked around. Before him there was an exact reproduction of the scene in the garden from the previous day.
Above, on the balcony, he could see Lilith looking down, motionless, and next to her was also Demian. A few feet from Marianne was the man who was attacked, but it was the gray figure that he should focus on. However, to his bewilderment, what he had first taken for a gray silhouette, now seemed a blur in the still image from Marianne’s memory.
As much as he tried to see it from various angles and from the same distance as her, it still seemed blurry and faceless. He tried loading the mental image again, like a play button, fast-forwarding and then pausing several times, but each time he did it, the silhouette was blurred again, as a veiled picture, making it impossible to identify.
Next, he came out of her mind with a spasm and she looked curiously at him.
“What happened? Could you see it? Do you have any idea?”
“No,” he replied, shaking his head to regain his natural sight. “Whatever it is, I don’t think is anything we have known yet. Somehow, your memories of it are fuzzy, must be some kind of effect made at will for protection.”
Marianne slightly tilted her head, a bit puzzled. She was sure to remember the figure, but for some reason she couldn’t get a clear mental picture of it. She didn’t understand what prevented her.
“Okay, let’s forget about this for now. Let’s get out of here, we have to go to Lucianne’s house and at least eat something.”
“I saw what the others said about me,” Samael said with a rueful look on his face.
“Enough! I’ve had it. I’ll take care of clearing things out tonight, okay? Now let’s go before Loui and dad come back.”
Lucianne remained sitting with her legs crossed and watched every move Marianne made while passing the food through the dome, as if waiting for the slightest slip to use it to her advantage.
“So, you have an angel as your bodyguard, huh?” Lucianne said callously. “I knew there was something odd about him. It’s impossible for a human being to act that way all the time.”
“You’ve been getting more out of time visits, it seems, even when we’ve agreed not to come alone.”
“And you think they really abide by your instructions all the time like you were, what? Their leader?” Lucianne snapped derisively. “What a great leader! Hiding things all the time, lying and belittling your teammates!”
“Shut up! None of that is true and I’m not a leader!”
“And yet you get defensive right away, which means it really affects you. And that’s because deep inside, you know it’s true.”
“I shouldn’t even listen to you!” Marianne headed upstairs, sick of hearing her.
“Demian kissed me the day you were here because of my father . . . remember?” her cousin said and she stopped mid-stairs. “ . . . Yeah, you remember. You opened the door at that moment. You asked if you had interrupted something and I said no, but you did, so much that he ran away. That was the moment I consider the one that killed any chance for a relationship between us.”
“I don’t see what that has to do with me, and neither am I interested,” she replied without turning to her.
“I’m just telling you,” Lucianne said, letting out a delighted giggle. “So you know that kissing him wasn’t out of my character. I just returned the previous kiss . . . and I don’t think it displeased him either.”
“His father died,” Marianne said to change the subject. “What can you say about that?”
“Only the sister left to go and then he will be the perfect match,” Lucianne replied, flashing a mischievous smile.
Marianne couldn’t keep listening, she ran upstairs and slammed the door shut, after which she leaned back and tried to regain her calm.
“Did she say something?” Samael asked, after seeing her in that state.
“Doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t have listened.”
The kitchen door opened and Frank stormed in, panting as if he had been running all the way to get there.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, pointing reproachfully at her.
“What do you mean ‘what am I doing here’? The same as every other day,” she replied, lifting an eyebrow at his odd question. “In any case I think I’m the one who should be asking you. Looks like you’ve been coming to see Lucianne after hours, isn’t it? That’s not what we agreed on.”
Franktick leaned on the door frame between the kitchen and the dining room and bent over to catch his breath. After a few seconds, he straightened up again, looking stolid.
“I haven’t had any problem so far, as you can see. I’ve handled myself pretty well, so I deserve to keep her company while no one else can,” he justified, and couldn’t help releasing a gasp at the end of his sentence.
“ . . . Are you okay? You seem nervous,” she asked suspiciously.
“Of course not! I just came running all the way here, that’s all.”
“Why would you have to come running?”
“And why wouldn’t I? Are you suggesting I’m hiding something? What’s wrong if I run? And watch out, angel boy! Eyes on the other side, don’t you dare read my mind!”
Samael immediately looked at the floor like a scolded child.
“Don’t talk to him like that. He hasn’t done anything to you!” Marianne protested.
“I’m just putting the cards on the table. While he refrains from using any of his angel powers on me, I don’t care if he fell from sky or someone made Buffalo wings from his, but I don’t want him to look at me or else I’ll know he’s trying to break into my mind,” Franktick warned them.
“I can’t read your mind just by looking at you, it takes more than that,” Samael replied, a little tired of it all.
“Well, I still don’t want you to look at me, angel boy.”
“Stop it already! If it weren’t for him, you’d be in jail right now, so stop acting like a jerk because your insufferable act is getting old,” she spat, ready for any defensive retort, but he just twisted his mouth, resisting the urge to reply.
“I’ll go see Lucianne,” was all he said, heading down to the basement.
Marianne snorted and shook her body, hoping thereby to ward off the bad mood.
“Let’s just keep going,” she said, going after the broom and duster.
By the time they finished cleaning, it was getting dark, and Frank had left the basement. He was sitting on one of the couches in the living room, hunched forward with his head almost touching his knees, looking quite exhausted.
“Was Lucianne too much to handle?” Marianne commented and he tried to stretch out to look normal.
“I just got tired of sitting in that uncomfortable stool. I wanted to rest awhile on the couch,” he replied, leaning now on the back and pulling out a cigarette under Marianne’s reproachful glare. “What? I can’t smoke in here either? Are you afraid I’m going to set the house on fire?”
She just folded her arms and scowled at him, to which he responded with a snort and rolling his eyes.
“Okay, okay, I’ll go outside.”
He got up in all his laziness and headed to the kitchen door with light steps. Seconds later, the others came in, fleeing from the cigar smoke. Once Samael saw them, he stepped back and looked down the floor so they wouldn’t think he was trying to get into their minds. The guys slowed down as they came into the living room and remained silent, unable to do or say anything now that they were in front of him. Marianne was right in the middle, looking at both sides, thinking how to intercede.
“Well, this has to stop,” she said. “Okay, you’ve all learned that he’s an angel, just accept it and get over it because we’re gonna keep sharing space indefinitely. He may not have the same origin as us, but he’s trying to get used to our customs, and if you start treating him different on a technicality, it’s not going to help with his confidence. You have to understand that we need to stay together more than ever, and if you can gloss over Frank’s rudeness for the sake of the team, you can also do it with him.”
“You know I can hear everything out here?” Frank’s voice boomed from the back yard. She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.
“The point is that it’s in your hands to let this affect everything we’ve fought for or just let it go.”
Her friends exchanged glances in silence, as if deciding who would be the first to speak.
“So, since you’re an angel . . . ” Mitchell finally said, as if considering the information, “ . . . are you asexual then?”
“What?! It’s a reasonable question! And it would explain a lot!”
“You don’t have to answer that!”
“I don’t even know what it means,” Samael admitted, confused.
“I’ll explain if you want. A visit to the dresser should solve everything.”
“Mitchell, stop it!” Marianne ordered, losing her temper.
“Don’t you have wings?” Lilith asked next, joining the flood of questions. “Angels are always pictured with wings, where are yours? Did you even have them?”
“Are there female angels? And I’m asking because I’m not yet clear whether or not your kind is fully equiped.”
“Ugh, that’s enough! No more questions for him!” Marianne interrupted, standing in the middle.
“Why don’t you tell them his real name?” Angie said from a corner, where she witnessed everything with disinterest.
“His name isn’t even Samuel?”
“It doesn’t matter. You knew him as Samuel and you can still call him that, he’s okay with that, right?”
“What’s his real name?” Lilith asked, though they could get an idea given the slip Marianne previously had.
“ . . . Samael,” she answered. The guys nodded as if they had finally seen the light, while he just stood on one side, feeling awkward.
“Is that it, then?” Mitchell asked. “There’s nothing else you’re hiding from us?”
Marianne cocked her head, trying to remember if there was anything else, but that was all she could think of at the moment.
“He should tell us now about what that demon meant when he mentioned other Angel Warriors. Ones before us,” Franktick said, appearing by the door and walking towards them. “Well, tell us about them. Why did Hollow mention one of us could be their reincarnation? Why did I have that gift?”
Samael found himself surrounded by their gazes, eager for knowledge. He was tense, aware that they would be waiting for an answer he didn’t have at the time.
“ . . . Sorry. I wish I could answer all your questions, but I really don’t know a lot of things yet. I was sent to this world with certain preconceived ideas, but for now that’s not one of them. The only Angel Warriors I know are you.”
The others seemed disappointed and stopped asking questions. Samael tried to take the opportunity to make amends.
“Listen, I know I should have told you from the beginning what I was . . . but I feared your reaction. I’m still the same, even if you see me now through different eyes. All I want from you is a chance.”
“Or else we’ll go to hell?”
“Mitchell, I’m warning you!” Marianne growled again.
“Oh, well, okay, it’s fine. Come on, buddy,” Mitchell finished, shaking hands with Samael and pulling him into a hug, moment he took to grope his back as if seeking for vestiges of wings. He pulled away, taken aback by his action and Mitchell just laughed it off and raised his hands as a sign that he wouldn’t do it again.
“This is somehow . . . exciting,” Lilith commented, poking him with her finger, like he was some kind of strange, poisonous species.
“Oops! Sorry.” Lilith giggled embarrassed. “So, you have human senses then, huh? How about . . . tickling?”
Her fingers began to move swiftly and began to tickle his ribs. He tried to pull away, but Mitchell held him from behind and in a split second he was writhing under her fingers, laughing almost to the point of tears.
“Hey, let him go!” Marianne ordered, pulling him away so they would stop. Samael immediately took refuge behind her, his face completely red and protecting his ribs with his arms. The others only laughed. “You’re being childish.”
“I think I’m starting to see the fun side of having an angel in the team,” Mitchell said, shaking his hands.
“I don’t see the fun in this,” Samael said, covering himself to prevent another tickle attack.
“He’ll need a whole life,” Franktick intervened. All eyes flicked to him. “I mean a past to back him up. IDs, records, whatever necessary to demonstrate his existence as a human being.”
“The one he’s got from camp looks good to us. We thought about building something around that,” Marianne answered and Frank cleared his throat.
“I could do it,” he suggested reluctantly. “I could place him in the system, so no one would have doubts about him or his identity.”
“In exchange for what?” Marianne asked suspiciously.
“You really have me in such a bad concept?” Frank huffed, offended. “I’m offering my selfless help, if you don’t want to accept it, is up to you. Don’t say later I wasn’t trying.”
“We could use some help,” Marianne agreed, trying to soften her tone.
“We have a deal, then,” he finished, nodding lightly as if that way he was showing he could also be civil about it, without losing his toughness. Then he leaned back against the wall, trying to look relaxed, and pulled out another cigarette.
“Out,” Marianne ordered with an unyielding tone.
“Are you serious?” Frank snapped, lighter in hand, and she just glared at him in response. He snorted and retraced his steps back to the kitchen. “Fussy.”
That night, though, a new binding agreement between them was sealed.
“Do I have to?” Samael asked the next day after Marianne’s sudden decision that he would help in the cafeteria.
“You’ve got a lot of free time in the mornings, and Mankee needs all the help he can get. It will be a piece of cake for you.”
He gave a resigned sigh as Marianne walked down the kitchen stairs. Her father and Loui were already having breakfast.
“Good morning,” Noah greeted her with a cup of coffee in hand. She answered with a slight nod and noticed there was another newspaper seated on the table. Demian’s father was on the cover again. “Terrible, huh? For the few minutes I knew him I thought he was really nice. I feel sorry for his children, they’re all alone now.”
“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” she replied, resisting the urge to comment on how they had done well without their parents’ presence, but her brother’s face warned her not to say anything.
“The newspaper says the funeral will be tomorrow. Will you go?”
Marianne fell silent for a moment. Until then, she hadn’t thought about attending the funeral of the man whose death she felt partly responsible for. Would Demian see the guilt in her eyes if she were in front of him? She didn’t know what to say, she wasn’t even able to utter a word to him since he announced his father’s death. Furthermore, she wasn’t sure if they would be welcome, either. Perhaps it would be a private funeral.
“I don’t know yet. It may be only for the family.”
“Friends are family,” her father said, taking her aback. She kept silent and ultimately decided to go to school.
“I’m leaving. Later,” she said after taking another apple from the basket.
Just as she had promised Mankee, she left the angel in the coffee shop while she headed for school, trying not to think about the funeral.
After school, she was surprised to see the place was even more crowded than before. Also, their supposedly exclusive place was now taken by other people while her friends had taken refuge in the counter.
“What’s going on?” Marianne asked, taking a seat next to them.
“Shhhhh, just watch,” Mitchell whispered, pointing to the tables.
She looked around and noticed most of the customers of the day were girls, constantly ringing their bells or lifting their arms fiercely, trying to attract Samael’s attention, who was going from table to table writing down their orders, and whenever Lilith was the one who attended their calls, they quickly got rid of her and made another attempt with the angel.
“I knew it. That charm couldn’t be normal. Being an angel has its benefits,” Mitchell added with a hint of jealousy. “Well, at least I no longer feel so bad now that I know the truth.”
“No one has allowed me to take their orders. I’m so frustrated!” Lilith complained, wheezing as she leaned on the counter next to them.
“It’s not supposed to be a competition.”
“But it is! How am I supposed to get any tips?”
“Are the two of you the only ones out here?”
“Remy, the other waiter, is helping Monkey in the kitchen.”
“Tomorrow is the funeral,” Marianne blurted out, and the others kept quiet.
“We have to go, then,” Mitchell decided, without giving it much thought.
“But . . . don’t you think that, after what happened, it would be a little . . . ?”
“A little what? We can’t blame ourselves forever. He’s our friend, we have to be there so he knows he can count on us,” he said with determination, and Marianne decided to leave it that way. Maybe he didn’t feel guilty because the gift wasn’t in his hands, but she couldn’t stop thinking about it.
“It’s odd,” Samael said, approaching them while checking the notes from the orders. “Several girls wrote some numbers behind these orders. What do you think it means?”
Mitchell gave him one of his resentful glances and had to resist the urge to grab him by the shoulders and shake him up to get a reaction.
Out of respect for Mr. Donovan’s memory, the coffee shop closed on Thursday. The newspaper said the funeral would take place at noon at the cemetery, same as the burial, so once out of school, the guys headed in that direction. They weren’t dressed in black as etiquette required, but they thought the intention was what mattered. The only ones who didn’t go with them were Frank and Samael.
The cemetery was divided into several sections, from normal graves to family chapels. It took them several minutes to walk among headstones with all kinds of inscriptions and creepy angel statues, until they got to see a mausoleum with a small gathering of people in black far in the distance.
They stopped several yards away, hiding behind a big tree to watch those people. There were a handful of older and middle-aged men with a kind of corporate look to them. They were probably members of Mr. Donovan’s company. Demian was in front of everyone, standing up straight with a rigid stance. He simply stared at the coffin while it was being transported into the mausoleum.
Perhaps the only human gesture he had at the time was consoling a girl, crying inconsolably beside him. She had long light brown hair, completely pulled back in a ponytail, and a black bonnet crowning it, including black gloves.
“That’s Vicky, Demian’s sister,” Angie said, recognizing her. “I haven’t seen her in years, but she hasn’t changed that much.”
“Shouldn’t you go and express your condolences?”
“I don’t think I have the empathic ability to give a real heartfelt condolence for now. We haven’t met for seven years and now I’m an emotionless robot.”
“At least you recognize it.”
Lilith was unusually quiet, watching that girl intently. It was supposed to be the first time she’d seen her, but looked vaguely familiar to her. She thought carefully where she had seen that face with big eyes and elfish narrow features before, when an image took over her mind: eyes wide open, staring at her, while a fire ball went through her body making her burn inside. The image the voices had shown her so many times. She was real, she existed. Lilith recoiled, disturbed, took a big breath and choked a scream right before fainting as her friends held her and tried to wake her up.
“We have to get her out of here before someone sees us,” Marianne muttered, trying to make as little noise as possible, but the small uproar was already drawing the attention of those attending the funeral. Mitchell and Mankee carried the girl and started to retreat.
Marianne glanced back and noticed that Demian was looking at them with the same blank expression. She felt a pang of remorse and quickly looked back to the front, following the others. On her way, she couldn’t help but notice a smell of smoke as she passed some graves.
They ended up taking refuge at the coffee shop, behind closed doors, leaving Lilith with a glass of lemonade and a cold compress on her head.
“What was that? You looked scared, did you see something?”
“I don’t know. I just . . . felt everything was spinning around and I—I suddenly fainted,” she replied without taking her eyes off her drink, so she wouldn’t have to lie to their faces. She couldn’t tell them what she had seen even if unsure of what that meant, all she knew was that she had to stay away from that girl.
“Then I guess we’ll have to postpone our condolences for another day,” Mitchell said and the others agreed.
Marianne, however, still could see his blank gaze in her mind, and when she was about to arrive home, she made and unexpected turn and kept walking north. Demian’s house was a few streets ahead, and despite having no idea what to do or say, she kept going on an impulse.
The streets were quiet, which made her focus again on the unsettling feeling that she was being followed. Near, far, she couldn’t tell, she just knew some presence was lurking around, but didn’t know what kind.
When she arrived in front of Demian’s house, she stopped at the gate and turned around quickly, hoping to take whoever was behind her by surprise, but the street was empty. She heaved a sigh and turned again, finding Demian already behind the fence, causing her a jolt. He seemed puzzled to see her there, but didn’t say anything, he just opened the gate and let her in.
“Come in. It’s cold outside,” he said, closing the gate as she walked in. She then followed him into the house without exchanging any word.
He was already wearing his daily clothes, jeans and a thick suede jacket, as if about to go out. As they entered the house, he kept walking and she hesitated on whether or not to follow him.
“Would you like some water or soda?”
“Wa-water,” Marianne fumbled, surprised that he hadn’t asked why she was there or made some comment about having seen them in the cemetery.
He went to the kitchen while she stood in the middle of the hall, looking around, feeling like an ant in a land of giants. Demian was back minutes later, carrying two glasses of water, giving one to her and sitting at the bottom of the huge main stairs. She imitated the gesture, and they sank into a long silence. Demian kept his gaze fixed on the glass as she tried to come up with something to say, but her mind was blank.
“How are you feeling?” she finally asked, just to regret it right away, and by the way he looked at her, she confirmed it was a bad idea.
“How do you think I feel?”
“I’m sorry. It was a stupid question,” she apologized, eschewing his eyes and starting to wonder what had driven her to go over there.
Demian took a breath and let it out slowly into a sigh.
“Sorry. I shouldn’t have spoken to you that way, none of this is your fault,” he added and she felt a knot in her throat. “I still don’t get it. I even took off the mourning. I don’t like black. I’ve had too many deaths in my life.”
“Were you going somewhere?”
“To see my father’s lawyer. I must solve an issue or social services won’t leave us alone.”
“We need a legal guardian,” Demian explained. “At least until I reach the legal age to take care of my father’s properties and my sister’s custody. We don’t have any living relative and our father had designated Mr. Ganzza as our legal guardian if anything happened . . . He had no one else in reserve.”
“What about any of his partners?”
“Any of them would be enthralled to take control of the company with the power that being our legal guardian would represent,” he said, wagging his head negatively. “I won’t allow it. We need someone who agrees to being our guardian only by name, and give us freedom, so the company’s decisions would have to pass by me first and it would depend on my last word. My father taught me a lot about the management. I just need time to get used to it . . . however, my sister doesn’t have the time. Without a guardian, she can’t go back to school and if she’s not there by Monday, she’ll lose the rest of the semester.”
Marianne listened without making any comment. She was surprised to see him so collected and practical after the state of shock she had seen him in when his father had just died, but understood he had to stay strong for his sister, now that he was all she had left, and Marianne respected him for that. With a slight nod, she glanced upstairs as if expecting to see the girl coming down and maybe get to know her up close, which Demian seemed to notice.
“I would introduce you to her . . . but she hasn’t left her room since we arrived,” he said, and suddenly the reality of his plight seemed to just dawn on him. “Dad visited her almost every weekend, that’s why he traveled that much.”
“I’m sorry,” Marianne repeated as if she had run out of words, mostly driven by guilt. “Perhaps . . . I could help.”
“I appreciate the interest, but unless you’re an adult, I don’t see how you could help in our situation.”
“My father,” she replied with certainty. “He’ll do it. He’ll agree to be your legal guardian.”
Demian looked at her doubtfully, wondering why she was suddenly so keen to help them to the extent of offering her own father.
“You don’t have to do this. I don’t want to cause any problems to your family.”
“You won’t!” She jumped up. “You said it yourself, it won’t represent any real responsibility, right? It will be a piece of cake to him then. He’s evaded so many duties as a parent for years anyway that this won’t be any different.” Realizing what she had just said, she fell silent, as if she had suddenly made an embarrassing confession. Demian just stared at her. If there was a flash of compassion in his eyes, she didn’t want to know. She averted her gaze and started to head for the door. “Tell your lawyer you already have someone who will be your legal guardian, just text me the place and time he needs to go tomorrow to make it official and he’ll be there,” she finished, unsuccessfully trying to open the door.
Demian got up and opened it up for her, just by activating a pair of locks at the same time. She made an awkward nod and hurried out of there, closely followed by him towards the gate.
“Thanks,” he said when she walked past him.
Marianne felt a twinge in her chest (guilt again?). She just nodded once more, trying not to look too shaken, and didn’t wait for him to say anything else, just left the place at a quick pace. Even the feeling of being followed had been pushed to the background, though she still perceived a subtle smell of smoke in the atmosphere, like in the cemetery.
When she got home, she waited for the right moment to address her father alone, but Loui didn’t seem willing to stay away from him, only until the kid went to sleep she was able to find her father in the kitchen by himself, sipping his coffee.
“Can I talk to you?” she asked at the bottom of the service stairs. Her father looked surprised that she would take the initiative and then gestured her to take a seat in front of him, but she refused. “I’ll be brief. I just . . . need to ask you a favor.”
“Sure. Tell me, what can I do for you?”
“It’s not for me. Demian and his sister need a legal guardian after their father’s death,” she explained while Noah listened earnestly. “At least just for a few months until he’s old enough.”
“Are you asking me to become your friend’s guardian?”
“You won’t have to do anything, it will be just a title. He’ll handle everything, just needs an adult to endorse it. You can still be doing the same things as usual, without having to worry about any responsibility.”
He seemed to sense a hint of bitterness in her words, as if suddenly grasping that was exactly what she thought of him. Marianne noticed his sudden change of expression and realized what she had just said.
“Sure. I get it. If that’s what you want, I’ll do it then,” he agreed, trying to smile despite his wounded expression.
Marianne kept her mouth shut to not make it worse. She just slightly nodded and turned around. She couldn’t keep looking at him, not when that woman’s voice was still fresh in her mind. So she ran to her room and leaned against the door as she waited for her mind to clear up.
The beep of her cell distracted her, she had received a message. It was from Demian. He had sent her an address and time.
That meant they would carry on with her suggestion: her father would become legal guardian for Demian and his sister. Would that make them some kind of siblings before the law? The idea seemed preposterous and unsettling to some extent, almost as much as the idea that had gotten into Lilith’s mind . . . but no, it was so ridiculous she couldn’t even bring herself to think about it. Better not to think at all. She went straight to bed and dropped on it, hoping for sleep to come.
The next day, Noah drove in complete silence all the way to the court, very familiar to Marianne by now, after all the times she had been there. They parked in one of the free lots at central park and got out of the car quietly. Her father dressed the most formal he could: a white long sleeve shirt with a tie and black pants, while she had opted for a hoodie she had put over her head as they went through the passage connecting the two buildings.
Inside the court they came to a room where Demian and a man with a gray mustache and glasses were sitting on some couches. He immediately stood up and began the greetings and introductions.
“I appreciate you agreed to do this,” Demian said, shaking Noah’s hand.
“It’s nothing and I’m really sorry for your loss,” Noah replied, placing a hand on his shoulder in support. Demian shivered a little and glanced at Marianne, who kept her distance with hands inside her pockets.
“Over here, Mr. Greniere. I’ll explain some of the responsibilities you’ll have as Demian and Givicha Donovan’s legal guardian, and then we’ll proceed to sign some documents,” the lawyer said.
“Sure, responsibilities,” Noah said with a bitter smile and Marianne averted her gaze. “Wait for us here, then.”
Both men entered the office, closing the door behind them, leaving the two teens standing in the hall in complete silence for a few minutes.
“Thanks again,” Demian said and she shook her head as a sign that he didn’t have to thank her.
“Are you coming back to school?”
“Maybe I’ll be missing a few more days. I’m not sure. I don’t feel ready to go back.” She just nodded and they kept quiet again for a while. “May I tell you something? Any kind of disagreement you have with your father . . . it’s not worth it in the long run. When you least expect it he could . . . no longer be there. And then there will be no turning back. All the things you didn’t say at the time can never be said anymore.”
Marianne looked at him with a drawn face, like she wanted to say something, but was unable to. The door opened again and Noah and the lawyer came out.
“Everything’s in order, we’ll sign the documents now. You must come with us too, Demian,” the lawyer said, and he followed them towards the door at the end of the hall.
“I . . . gotta go,” Marianne said, starting to step back
“You’re not waiting for us?” her father asked.
“I have to do something . . . See you home later.”
“ . . . Okay. Goodbye, then,” her father said with a grim smile, knowing she wouldn’t change her mind.
Demian just looked blankly at her while she walked back to the exit. He had just lost his father and meant every single one of those words. How could she argue with it? Yet the voice of that woman over the phone . . . Marianne walked out without daring to look back.
She had to go to Lucianne’s house to meet the others. Clear up her mind. The hike would help. Going through the passage connecting both buildings, she suddenly perceived the smell of smoke again. She turned her face quickly, but the people passing by didn’t seem suspicious, everyone in their own world. It was normal to feel stalked, she was in a public place with people coming and going among both buildings every minute, after all. She looked to the sides and kept walking, putting her hands on her pockets.
A few feet away, a tall and slender figure went out from one side of the building and started walking in the same direction as her, following her steps.
Leaving the passage, he stopped, pulled out a cigarette and put it in his mouth while the other hand took a lighter and lit it. After puffing the smoke, Frank felt his energy renewed and continued on his way, the same path as Marianne.