“I don’t feel right about this.”
“Why? What harm will it do?” Cecil sat in my chair in that strange crouched position and I glared at him a little.
“I feel like I’m setting her up or something. I don’t know, it just feels wrong somehow. After all the shit that’s happened to her, I don’t want to do something that could potentially hurt her.”
“We’re not… setting her up,” he said carefully. “Well, I mean, I suppose we are, but not really? We’re setting up the demon that’s around her.”
“Assuming there is a demon around her,” I muttered.
“Oh, there is, trust me. When I was watching her I could feel the demon’s presence even more strongly, right in her bedroom. There’s a demon there, and I’m pretty sure she knows about it, too.”
I narrowed my eyes, frowning at him. “Why would Beth be with a demon? Is it tormenting her? Did she summon it? Stop stepping around the issue and tell me what the hell is going on.”
Cecil flinched a little and looked away from me, gritting his teeth somewhat. “I don’t know. I don’t have enough information about this yet. That’s why I want you to go and see her for a longer period of time than just eating lunch with her at school. It’ll help me figure out what’s going on.”
“And just why exactly do you need to involve me in this, anyway?” I asked, feeling just a little upset on this point.
“Because you’re involved in this already. I’m your guardian, and if Bethany knows about this demon, she’s involved as well. I’m sorry, but I can’t just keep you out of it at this point.”
I let out a heavy sigh, sinking back against my pillows. “I obviously don’t have a choice in the matter so I guess there’s no point complaining about it.”
He leapt out of the chair in a strangely graceful manner and landed next to the bed. I hated how tall he was, how he always seemed to be stooping to look at me. It made me feel like a child. But it also reminded me how inhuman he really was.
“You care about her, don’t you? It’s not as if I’m accusing her of anything. I have no intention of harming her whatsoever. Quite the opposite, in fact. I was sent to find this demon, but if it is harassing her, I feel it is my duty to destroy it even more now than before.”
“And I’m just along for the ride, is that it?”
He sighed and turned away from me. “You know, this would all be far easier if you cooperated. I do believe I said something about that when I first came to you, didn’t I? I’m doing this to help your friend, so I don’t know why you’re insisting on being difficult about it.”
“I just… it feels like what you’re doing could hurt her in the long run. I don’t know.” I sighed a little, realizing that I was acting stupid about this.
Cecil stepped back over to me, resting a hand on my shoulder, and I looked up at him. There was a serious look on his face, unlike any I had seen on him before. “If she’s made contact with a demon, I need to do something. I’m not sure what I can do to break that contract and keep her safe, but that’s why I need your help on this.”
I stared at him for a long moment and asked, “Why couldn’t you just be her guardian instead?”
“That’s not how it works, I’m afraid. I was assigned to you, so I have to stay with you.”
“Of course that’s how it works,” I mumbled, shaking my head and sighing softly. “Alright. I’ll do what you ask. As long as it’s to help Beth.”
“It will,” he said reassuringly. “I’m not going to risk her getting hurt in order to get the demon, you can be sure of that.”
I broached the subject with my parents that I wasn’t going to come home from school right away. I was going to the park with a friend to study for a test that was coming up. Mom asked who it was, and without missing a beat I just named the girl who sits next to me in class, despite the fact that we weren’t friends. This seemed to placate my mother and she didn’t ask any further questions, nor make any objections.
Dad, of course, didn’t seem to care at all what I was doing. As long as I wasn’t off doing something that made our family look bad, I could do whatever the hell I wanted. The only exceptions to that were when I had to go to official things, usually having to do with the church, because the deacon’s whole family being there made a better impression.
The next day at school, I sat with Beth at lunch once more. We hardly spoke to each other, but we did decide where we’d meet up when school was over so we could walk to the park together. The whole time we talked, I could feel Cecil’s eyes boring into me, despite not being able to see him anywhere. It sent tingles down my spine and I wished I could see him so I could punch those glasses off his face. What do angels need glasses for, anyway?
“Are you doing alright?” I asked Beth. She shrugged her shoulders and ate her lunch silently. Despite my attempts at befriending her, she still seemed so withdrawn. I had to keep telling myself that it was normal, that it had nothing to do with me. Or maybe it did have to do with me, but that was normal too considering who my dad was. I just had to make sure I didn’t take it too personally.
The rest of school was average. Nothing exciting happened, as if it ever did, and I had a hard time concentrating, lost in my own thoughts most of the time. I could still feel Cecil watching me and a few times I swore I saw him out of the corner of my eye. When I turned to look, he wasn’t visible. I scowled and hissed under my breath, “Leave me alone,” hoping he would get the picture.
School finally ended. I waited on the front steps for Beth and she came out with several other girls hovering around her. The same girls that I had caught harassing her a few days ago. When Beth walked over to me though, they dispersed without a word or glance toward us. I glared in their direction and turned to her.
“Are those girls still giving you a hard time?”
She shrugged her shoulders and started walking. “Not like before, but they keep… staring at me.”
I clenched my hands around my backpack straps, then let out a sigh. There was nothing we could do about it, I supposed. “Come on, then. Let’s just get going.”
We walked to the park together in silence. Thankfully today was a much nicer day than it had been recently. It wasn’t quite so chilled, and the sun was shining. We found a bench at the park that was warm from the sunlight and settled on it together. I leaned back and set my backpack down beside me, stretching and yawning. Beth sat with her arms around herself.
“Is there anything you’d like to talk about?” I asked. She shook her head. I wondered how exactly this friendship was going to work out if she was so closed off from everybody. Again, I didn’t blame her for that whatsoever, it was just going to make things more difficult. “Is there anything you’d like to do together?” I finally asked. She looked up at me.
“I don’t know. We could just go for a walk down that little nature trail, or we could play a game or something.”
Beth let out a sigh, then she brought her legs up and hugged her knees against her chest. “I don’t feel like doing anything. I don’t really feel much of anything at all, actually.”
I blinked and stared at her. “What do you mean?”
“I just… feel numb all over. I’m not happy, I’m not even sad. I feel so empty and hollow inside. I don’t like this feeling, and I don’t know what to do.”
I didn’t know what to do about that, either. Right about now would have been a good time for Cecil to appear. And he did, but things didn’t play out the way I’d hoped they would after that.
Cecil stood right next to me and was whispering in my ear, making me jump. I had to keep myself from reacting too violently around Beth or she’d think something was up.
“There is definitely a demon with her,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to reveal itself unless I reveal myself first. It’s somewhat of a risk, but I think it’s one I have to take. So I’m going to let Beth see me, and in doing so I’m letting the demon see me, too. Just a heads up.”
Well, this wasn’t going to end well, I thought. And it didn’t. Beth’s eyes grew wide and she shot back, nearly falling off the bench. “Wh-who is that?” she said, her voice a hoarse whisper. I turned to look at Cecil, and he held his hands up.
“Easy, I’m not going to hurt you, don’t worry. My name is Cecil. I’m an angel of the Lord, and I-”
“Oh, I should have known they would send you of all people.” The voice came from nowhere, and I didn’t recognize it at all. The sound of it made me shiver and I shrank back a little closer to Cecil. Cecil himself actually looked a little pale after hearing the voice.
All of a sudden a man appeared behind Beth. He was just as tall as Cecil with long black hair and amber eyes. Large black wings with tattered feathers were folded on his back and everything about him looked absolutely ghastly. He grinned, showing off sharp fangs, and he laid his hands on Beth’s shoulders, pulling her closer to him.
“Cynder,” Cecil whispered. I looked between the two of them for a moment, confused and more than a little frightened.
“Do… do you two know each other?” I asked once I had found my voice.
“You could say that,” the demon replied with a faint chuckle. Cecil grit his teeth and scowled at the demon.
“Yes, you could. We’re brothers.”