“They don’t want me around,” I mumbled, pacing around my room. “They made that pretty obvious.”
“Who,” Cecil asked. “Bethany, or her grandparents?”
“Both.” I sighed heavily then turned to Cecil with a frown. “What in the world are you eating?”
“Cinnamon stick.” He was sucking on the tip of the stick and looked a lot like a kid with a lollipop. This was the first time I had ever seen him eating anything, so why did he have to pick something so disgusting? I decided to do my best to ignore it.
“I did mention to her grandma about possibly talking to someone. I told her how depressed Beth’s been. I don’t know if I got through to her or not, though.”
“So what are you going to do now?” Cecil asked, still sucking on the cinnamon.
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just… go and talk to the pastor. If he actually does want to help, maybe he can talk them into seeking professional help.”
Cecil pulled the stick from his mouth and smiled. “I think that’s a great idea. You should definitely do that.”
I settled down on my bed and considered telling him about my encounter with Cynder but thought better of it. He’d probably freak out about what Cynder said to me, regardless of my own feelings on the matter. It’s not as if I would actually want to kill my dad, even if he is an asshole.
“You know, you never told me what your parents said when you asked them if you could talk to the Shepherds more openly,” Cecil said, drawing me out of my thoughts.
“Oh, well… they weren’t thrilled about it, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined it was going to turn out. They didn’t seem like they were thinking of punishing me for the mere mention of them, or the thought of going near them like they did when I was younger, but…”
Cecil furrowed his brow. “But what?”
“Mom looked like she was going to break out into hysterics at any time, and Dad seemed… far too calm about the whole thing.” I scowled at the thought, remembering our previous family dinner. “In fact, he was smiling. It almost sounded like he was encouraging it.”
Cecil’s eyes grew a little wider. “Seriously? Why do you think that is?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t like it. It’s completely different from how he once acted about it, and it doesn’t sit well with me.”
“Hrm.” Cecil put the stick of cinnamon back in his mouth and started sucking on it again, then said around it, “So when are you going to talk to the pastor?”
“Tomorrow probably, after church. We’ll see how that goes. To tell you the truth, I’m just as wary about talking to him as I am my parents or Beth’s grandparents. He wasn’t exactly sympathetic to Beth’s mom and he hasn’t seemed too caring toward Beth either.”
Cecil narrowed his eyes and sighed. “What is this world coming to?”
“If you haven’t noticed, it’s been like this for pretty much all of human history.”
“Well… I suppose you’re right.” He sighed again and let his shoulders slump. “It doesn’t mean I have to like it, though. And I thought men of God were supposed to be better than that.”
I snorted. “Clearly you have too much faith in humanity.”
He slumped further in the chair, looking like he was going to fall onto the floor any second. “You know I think I’m gonna go out for a little fly around the neighborhood.”
“You’re really terrible at your job, you know,” I muttered as he got up and headed to the window. “Fleeing at every opportunity whenever you hear something you don’t like. That doesn’t seem like something a guardian angel should be doing.”
“You have too much faith in guardian angels,” Cecil said. I rolled my eyes and shook my head, watching him leave. He always seemed to be leaving in the evening before I would have dinner with my family. It struck me as odd. What good was a guardian angel who kept disappearing anyway?
We had church the next morning. I noticed Beth’s grandparents were there but she wasn’t. That probably would have been awkward if she had come, considering Cynder was always with her. A demon coming to church, imagine that. I didn’t pay real close attention to the sermon- not that I ever did- but I did catch a few snippets here and there. He was talking about redemption. I found that cruelly ironic, all things considered.
When the service was over and everyone was starting to leave, I told my parents I wanted to go have a word with the pastor real quick. They gave me odd looks but didn’t protest. I pushed through the people leaving and walked up to the pastor.
“Excuse me, do you think we could talk for a few minutes? Privately? There’s something that’s really been bothering me and I need to get it off my chest.”
He looked me over once and gave me a level smile. “Why of course, Hannah. Why don’t we step into my office?” We went to his office and sat down together and he asked me what was on my mind. I told him everything I could with as little detail as possible.
“I have this friend. She’s having a lot of troubles and hard times. She’s going through really bad depression, too. I think it would be beneficial if she sought professional help, but I wasn’t really sure how to convince her. So I thought maybe you could talk to her.”
He pressed his fingertips together and leaned toward me. “Well, I can’t promise anything, but I can certainly try. Who is this friend of yours?”
This was the moment of truth. All I had to do was say her name and I’d find out just exactly what sort of man the pastor was. “Bethany Shepherd.”
His eyes widened a little, a seeming mix of surprise and understanding all at once. “Ah, I see. Yes, I know she must be having a hard time after her mother’s passing.”
“Not to mention all the ridicule she’s endured all her life for no reason,” I muttered.
For a moment it looked as if he wanted to argue with me, but he held his tongue and ignored my comment. “Shall I talk to her grandparents, then? See if I can’t set something up with them?”
“That would probably be a good idea, yeah.”
He smiled at me. “I’m glad you brought this to my attention, Hannah. It’s good to see that you’re looking out for her.”
“Somebody has to,” I said as I stood. “No one else seems to be doing it.”
I’m not sure if he even caught the bitter tone in my voice because he was still smiling kindly at me. We shook hands and walked out of his office together, then I rejoined my parents and we went home. I settled in my room where Cecil was waiting for me, seated on my chair in a crouch and chewing on a stick of cinnamon.
“You talk to him?”
“Yeah. He said he’ll talk to Beth’s grandparents. I’m not sure there’s anything else I can do from here except wait and see what happens.”
“Well, sometimes that’s the only thing you can do.” He bit down on the stick and broke off the tip of it with a hard crunch. I shuddered at the sound and wondered how he hadn’t broken his teeth on it.
“So what are we supposed to do in the meantime?”
“You should go about your life like normal,” Cecil said. “I’m still trying to figure out what to do about Cynder.”
“Just go and call up some of your angel buddies to take care of him, I’m tellin’ ya.” I sighed and rolled my eyes, knowing he was never going to do that. He ignored me completely on that point and continued chewing on the end of the stick. He reminded me of a dog.
At school the next day I kept looking for Beth, but she seemed to be avoiding my gaze. I did see her at lunch and tried to sit with her. She looked up when I came over and frowned at me. “What do you want?”
“I thought we were friends,” I said. “Friends generally sit and eat together, don’t they?”
“I don’t have any friends,” she muttered, turning her face away. “What, don’t you either? Why don’t you go sit with them?”
I narrowed my eyes and sat across from her. “Is something bothering you, besides the obvious?”
Her nostrils flared and she kept her face away from me. “Why’d you have to go and talk to him about me?”
“Excuse me?” I blinked at her. She turned her face up to me and it looked like she might start crying at any moment.
“Didn’t you know what was going on? My grandparents set up a time for me to meet with someone from the church to talk. Didn’t you know that?”
“Oh, yeah. I guess you figured out it must have been me, then.”
“I don’t want to be anywhere near your dad!”
I blinked again. “My dad? What are you talking about? I told the pastor, not-”
“Yeah, well he made the appointment be with your dad.” There really were tears in her eyes now, and her voice was shaking. “Thanks a lot.”
She stood up and left the table without another word. I couldn’t do anything but sit there in silence. What had I done? This isn’t at all what I wanted to happen.