“Do you want to be friends with that Fulton girl?”
“I don’t know.” Beth curled up on her bed, hugging her knees to her chest. “I do want to have a friend who sticks up for me, but it just… feels weird that it’s her.”
Cynder sat on the edge of her bed and gazed at her with his amber eyes. “Because of who her father is?”
Beth nodded her head and let out a sigh. “I was just… scared when she first sat down. It wasn’t so bad when we started talking I guess, but I still don’t know if we can really be friends.”
“You have no obligation to be if you don’t want to, you know,” he said, a small smile on his lips. “Besides, you have me. Do you really need anyone else?”
Beth shrugged a little and laid her head down on her pillow, closing her eyes. “It’s not quite the same with you. You’re not human, after all.”
Cynder gazed at her for a long moment then held his arms out to her. “Come here, Beth. I want to show you something.”
She lifted her head from her pillow and gazed up at him, then she slowly crawled across the bed over to him. Cynder wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into his lap, laying her head back against his chest. He stroked her hair for a few seconds, then took both her hands in his. Her hands seemed so small in his, and his grip was strong and comforting.
“Do you know what brings such creatures as me to the mortal realm, to visit a human?”
Beth looked up at him then shook her head. “No. What does?”
“We usually only appear to people who have nowhere left to turn. When they’re so far gone that they’ve lost sight of reality.” He began stroking his thumbs over her palms in gentle motions. “The thing most people don’t realize is that when you’re in such a state, you’re closer to the spirit realm than you are to this mortal realm.”
Beth blinked, rather unsure what he meant by that. “Does that mean I’m close to death?”
“No, not exactly. Though many who are in such a state of mind wish for death, it doesn’t mean you’re dying or about to die. It just means that your mind is more open to the spirit realm, and I and others like me can sense that. It’s what brought me to you in the first place.”
“Is that why people only get guardian angels when bad things are happening to them?”
Cynder chuckled and gave her hands a gentle squeeze. “Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s because their leader only gives them the job of being a guardian to specific people, just whenever he feels like it.”
Beth hesitated, then asked quietly, “Aren’t you an angel, though?”
Cynder was silent for a moment, then he pressed her closer against him. “I’m not one of those little guardian angels sent from heaven specifically to be with you.” He lifted up his hand and stroked over her cheek with one fingertip. “You could call me a fallen angel, or perhaps even a demon, but please do not let such labels frighten you. I’m not going to hurt you, Bethany. And I never shall.”
She shivered a little, resting her hand on his wrist. “Aren’t demons supposed to be bad, though? Don’t they want to hurt us?”
“Some do, yes, but not all. Besides, I’ve already made a contract with you, and I keep my word.” As he stroked over her face, his fingertip seemed to grow sharper, as if a claw were forming. “You should be happy that I found you before any other demons did.”
She closed her eyes, pressing close against him. “Please just tell me that I never have to have a reason to be afraid of you.”
“Oh, I’m sure there are plenty of reasons,” he said with a soft chuckle and he stroked her hair. “But as I said, I shall never harm you. I’ll protect you, and I’ll love you for as long as you live. Nothing will change that, my dear.”
His fingers were all forming claws, now. Beth shivered and looked up at him. His eyes seemed to be glowing slightly. He spoke again, and she noticed what looked like fangs in his mouth.
“Let me show you my true form. It may be frightening, but once you see it, you’ll know what I truly am, and you’ll know you can trust me. Alright?”
Beth let out a shaky breath then nodded her head. “Okay.”
Cynder took her hands in his once more. She gazed down at them and watched as his fingers grew large black talons. His skin started turning black as well, growing almost hard as rock. The blackness trailed up his arms, looking like dark veins, branching out across his pale skin.
Beth shivered and looked up at his face. The blackness was spreading there as well, especially around his eyes. His eyes themselves were darker and looked beastly, glowing with that dark amber color. The wings on his back grew larger, the black feathers ruffling and seeming slightly tattered.
He wrapped his arms around her and held her close. His breath was hot on her neck as he whispered in her ear, “Are you afraid of me?”
Beth closed her eyes, just taking a moment to feel his body against hers. Even with his claws stroking through her hair, and his skin feeling tougher, she didn’t want to run away from him. He still felt safe to be with. “No, I’m not.”
He smiled and tilted her head back to look down at her. “Good. Then we can trust each other fully. I won’t hide anything from you so long as I am your guardian.”
Beth gently took his wrist and pressed her cheek into his palm. “Cynder? Can I ask you something?”
“What is it, little one?” he said, stroking her face with his thumb.
“You said that guardian angels are given to people who have bad things happen to them, right? Well, why didn’t I get one, then?”
A solemn look came over his face and he hugged her a little closer. “I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you that. I quit my job a long time ago, so I don’t know what the qualifications are for having an angel assigned to a human. But if you’re asking because you think it’s unfair, I agree with you. That’s part of the reason I quit.”
Beth closed her eyes, resting against her guardian demon. “Well, I guess it doesn’t matter so much since I have you.”
He smiled and leaned down, kissing the top of her head and whispering against her hair, “No, it doesn’t.”
At school the next day, Beth would see Hannah in the halls on occasion, but neither of them approached the other. When lunch rolled around, Beth sat alone to eat as she often did, and soon Hannah came and joined her.
“Hey,” Hannah said.
“Hi,” Beth murmured, focusing more on her food than on Hannah. She was trying to get her appetite back, even though it was difficult. She was able to eat full meals now, at least.
“Listen, do you want to like… hang out some time?”
Beth looked up at this. “Where would we hang out?”
“I don’t know. The park, maybe. Just somewhere we could go together that our parents or grandparents wouldn’t see us.”
“I guess so,” Beth said with a slight nod of her head.
“How about today, after school?”
“Um… do you think maybe we could do it tomorrow, actually? It might be better if I give my grandparents some notice that I won’t be home right away. They can get pretty upset for small things like that.”
Hannah frowned slightly but then nodded her head. “Sure, I understand. Just don’t tell them who you’re going to be with.”
“Yeah, I know.”
They ate the rest of their lunch in silence and ended up either just glancing at each other or looking away awkwardly. When it was time for the next period, Hannah stood up. “Well, can we walk home together again today?”
“Sure,” Beth said.
“Alright, I’ll see you at the end of school, then.”
Beth watched Hannah walk away, then she sighed and went to her next class. When school let out, she met up with Hannah and walked with her on the way back home. They didn’t speak much, though they made a plan for where to go the next day.
When Beth arrived home, she settled into bed with her door closed. Cynder stood in the corner gazing at her. He was back to his slightly more human appearance, though his eyes were still glowing in a very inhuman manner.
“We may have a problem,” he said, his tone serious. Beth blinked at him, sitting up straighter.
“What do you mean?”
“You know how we were talking about guardian angels yesterday? Well, I believe I sensed one while you were walking home. Rather, I should say, I sensed one around that Fulton girl.”
“Are you saying that Hannah has a guardian angel of her own?”
A strange sensation came over Beth, and she wasn’t quite sure how to feel about this revelation. “Well… why is that a problem?”
“Because I have a feeling that whoever that angel is, they’re looking for me. And when they find me, they will do all in their power to destroy me, no matter the cost.”
Beth’s eyes grew wide. She jumped off her bed and ran over to him, wrapping her arms around him. “No, you said you’d stay with me forever. You can’t let that happen!”
Cynder knelt down beside her, wrapping his arms around her. “Don’t worry, it takes a lot to kill me. However, I think perhaps the reason she asked to see you tomorrow is because she needs to spend more time with you so her angel can intercept me.”
“Are you saying I shouldn’t go?”
“Not at all.” A rather unpleasant smile slowly spread across his face. “I want to meet this angel. I’m quite curious, in fact. What will he do when he finds out about the contract I’ve made with you?”