Several weeks passed without incident. Gail was still trying to avoid Ivan, but at some point he stopped being so overbearing and protective. They started eating lunch with him again and he never made a peep about what had happened, though it was clear to Gail he still wanted to but had figured out that he shouldn’t.
Cecil hadn’t shown up again since Halloween and neither did the demon. Gail barely spoke with Cynder but she could feel that he was always nearby in much the same way Cecil had been before he ran off. She couldn’t help but feel like his presence might be what was deterring Cecil from coming back at all.
“I can’t just leave,” Cynder said when she pointed this out to him. “If there’s any possibility that a demon might come after you it’s my duty to make sure it doesn’t harm you.”
“Yeah, I get that,” Gail said with a nod, “and don’t think I’m not grateful for that, I really am, but Cecil still hasn’t come back and I have a feeling it’s because you’re around. Maybe he knows you’re still here. If you weren’t, maybe he would come back. He probably thought you used me to get to him. If you’re still hanging around me, he’ll think the same thing is going to happen again, right?”
Cynder let out a heavy sigh and turned his face away. “Yes, you may have a point, but I don’t want to leave you alone in case that demon shows up again.”
“Couldn’t I just call for you if I needed you?” Gail said. “You don’t have to be with me at all times. If I call for you, you’ll hear me and come, right?”
He considered this for a moment and furrowed his brow. “Yes, I suppose that is an option.”
“I feel like that demon doesn’t want me, anyway,” Gail said. “You said yourself it wants Cecil. Maybe it won’t come back at all.”
Cynder took a few steps toward her, a stern look on his face. “Alright, I’ll leave and see if my brother will come, but you have to promise to call me if anything happens. If something were to happen to you just because I wasn’t around to deter it-”
“I’ll be fine,” Gail said, looking him straight in the eye. “But yes, I will call you, I promise. Just go until I do. It’ll be better this way.”
Cynder huffed then nodded his head. “Very well, then I’ll see you later.” He inhaled and in the blink of an eye he was gone. His presence that she so often felt even when she couldn’t see him faded away. She missed the feeling at first but then felt a sense of relief. She had been somewhat on edge since Cynder took over being her guardian, not like when Cecil was around.
Thanksgiving break was drawing nearer and Gail started getting calls and texts from both her parents asking what she was planning to do for the break. Her mother wanted her to come home and spend time with relatives who were going to visit. Her dad just wanted her to go out to dinner with him and Delilah. Gail preferred to just stay home and spend the time with Haley.
“I’m not going to be here, actually,” Haley told her when Gail brought the subject up. “I’m going to my family’s and I think I might bring Janae along, too. I’ll only be gone Thanksgiving day, but I’ll probably get back kind of late.”
“Right,” Gail said. “No, it’s fine. You should be with your family, I understand. As long as you can still tolerate them you shouldn’t let anything keep you from them.”
“You should consider going to see your family,” Haley said. “Maybe take up your dad’s offer and go out to dinner with him. You wouldn’t be here all by yourself, at least.”
Gail just stared at her. “You’ve met my dad. You really think I want to sit through another dinner with the two of them? I won’t even have you to bail me out in this case.”
“So are you just going to avoid your parents from now on?” Haley asked. “Disown them?”
“No, no, nothing like that,” Gail said with a sigh. “This year has just been really bad and I’m not sure I’m ready to face them again.”
“I get that, yeah, but I’m not sure avoiding them is the best thing you could do, either. Facing things usually turns out better. I mean hell, look at me. I was terrified to come out to my family and now I’m bringing my girlfriend with me to Thanksgiving.” She smiled a little and laid her hand on Gail’s shoulder. “It gets easier, you just have to take little steps. If you don’t want to spend Thanksgiving with any of them, though, I understand. You’re not obligated to, but I don’t want you to be all alone, either.”
Gail sighed and nodded her head. “You have a point, I guess. I’ll figure something out.”
She decided to tell her mother she was definitely not coming to Thanksgiving that year but she would go back at Christmas, at least for a few days. Her mother wasn’t entirely happy about her missing Thanksgiving but she seemed happier to know Gail would come for Christmas.
Gail still didn’t respond to her father’s invitation. She was debating whether or not to accept it but it was after she got a text from Delilah that she decided what to do.
“Hey, I know we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot, and I understand where you’re coming from with all of this. But I was hoping maybe the two of us could get to know each other better. I’m not trying to become your new mom or anything, I promise. That would be weird for me, too.”
As much as she wanted to ignore the text, Gail couldn’t bring herself to and finally, after putting it off for as long as she could, she said that she would go out to dinner with them.
When Thanksgiving arrived, Haley left the apartment early to take Janae and go to see her family. Gail was going to meet Delilah and her father later that evening so she spent the rest of the day mentally preparing herself. This involved snuggling with and taking pictures of Cecil the cat, who had grown significantly larger in the three months they’d had him.
“Too bad you’re not the other Cecil,” she murmured as she ran her hands through his fur. “I just wish he’d come back. I liked having him around. It felt safe with him here.”
The cat purred in response and bumped his head up into Gail’s palm, demanding more pets. She smiled a little and hugged him closer. “Well, I guess you’re the next best thing. Haley really did a good job in naming you, I think. You two seem somewhat alike, if he were a cat. A cat with wings would be interesting to see.”
He made a somewhat indignant sound as he headbutted her and curled up on her chest. Gail smiled and closed her eyes, hugging him close.
“I really do miss you, Cecil. Please, if you’re really my guardian, come back. Tell me that you’re okay, let me talk to you again. Please come back…”
It came time for her to leave and when Gail got to the restaurant they wanted to meet at, she found them waiting for her in the front. Her father smiled and hugged her close, giving her a kiss on the forehead.
“There’s my girl. How have you been, Gail? Are your classes going well?”
“Why don’t we wait until we’ve got a table to talk, Don?” Delilah said, giving Gail a slight smile as she led the way inside. They were shortly seated in the back of the restaurant and pur their orders in. Once the waiter left, they all relaxed a little more.
“So, how have you been?” Don asked as he smiled at his daughter. “It’s been a couple months since we’ve seen or talked to each other and I’d like to catch up.”
“Everything’s fine,” Gail said perhaps a little too quietly to sound sincere. “Just normal senior year stuff, you know. Staying up all night sometimes to work on a few projects but nothing too bad, really.”
“That’s good to hear,” he said with a smile. “You’re lucky, you know? You don’t have to worry about messing around with a dark room like we used to do. You can do all your photo editing all quick and easy on the computer. That must make things a hell of a lot easier.”
“I’ve used a dark room a few times,” Gail said with a nod of her head. “It was an experience, to be sure, but yes I do prefer working digitally.”
“Have any plans for Christmas?” he asked her.
“I’m going to Mom’s for Christmas,” Gail said with a sigh, rolling her eyes slightly. “I had to promise I would since I didn’t go there today.”
“Well say hello to her for me when you go,” Don said with a little smile. Gail just stared at him without saying anything. Delilah cleared her throat in hopes of changing the subject.
“Um, Don, do you think you could go out to the car and get my jacket for me? It’s a little chilly in here.”
“Of course, dear. I’ll be right back.” He stood and left the table, and Gail leaned back in her seat and stared at Delilah. Delilah watched as Don left before turning to Gail.
“Well, now that he’s gone, I wanted to talk to you about something. I feel like it’d be easier if he’s not around.”
“What would that be?” Gail asked, leaning in a little further.
“Listen, I know you probably don’t like me a whole lot, and I get that. Your dad left your mom to be with me and I’m sure that hasn’t been easy for you.”
Gail rolled her eyes a little. “No, not really. They were fighting a lot before you ever got involved, though, so I have a feeling it would have happened one way or the other.”
“Yes, from what I knew of the situation that seems fair.” Delilah nodded her head slowly. “Listen, Gail, I really would like to be your friend. It doesn’t have anything to do with your dad or anything. You seem like a cool person and I’d like to get to know you more, if that would be okay. I asked you to come tonight in hopes we could maybe get to be friends, and also I think your dad really misses you and wants to be close to you, he’s just not sure how. Regardless of what he’s done in the past, he is trying.”
“He is,” Gail said quietly. “I know, it’s just… difficult.”
“Maybe if you could give him a chance, things would work out easier,” Delilah said with a little smile. Gail didn’t respond to her as Don came back at that moment and put a jacket around Delilah’s shoulders. Delilah smiled at him and settled back in her seat.
“You two getting along alright?” he asked as he peered between them.
“Yes, we are,” Delilah said. “We were having a nice conversation until you came back.”
Don huffed a little. “Talking bad about me behind my back, were you?”
“Something like that,” Gail said with a faint smirk toward Delilah who gave her a wink.
The night was not altogether unpleasant like Gail had been expecting it to be. They had good food and drank a rich wine that Don had ordered for the three of them to share. No unpleasant subjects came up while they talked and Gail never found the need to retreat to the bathroom to call Haley for help. She felt at ease. She felt like this was something she could do, that this was normal.
When the night was over, Gail gave each of them a hug. Delilah grinned at her. “We should talk more. Why don’t we text? You have my number, don’t you?”
“Yeah, maybe we should.” Gail smiled at her before heading to her car. She waved goodbye to them before taking off and going back to the apartment. It was dark by the time she got back and Haley still wasn’t home. Gail was met at the door by the cat who was yowling for some dinner of his own.
Gail scooped him up in her arms and pet him for a few minutes before getting him some food. He promptly took to eating and ignored her long enough for her to go to her room and change. She settled onto her bed and sighed a little, peering around the room and fixing her gaze on the guitar case in the corner. She frowned at it, wishing she had learned to play alongside her brother so it wasn’t just sitting there collecting dust.
A soft mew broke her out of her thoughts and she turned to look to her door. She had closed it and she was sure the cat hadn’t followed her in. “Cecil? Where are you?”
A moment later a small orange and white kitten crawled out from under her bed and mewed pitifully at her. Gail’s eyes widened and she bent down to pick the kitten up.
“What? Where in the world did you come from, little guy?”
The kitten nuzzled against her for a moment before squirming out of her arms and hopping back down to the floor. The moment it touched the floor, a tall lanky man stood in its place. Gail shrieked and nearly fell off the edge of her bed.
“What the hell, Cecil!”
Cecil colored a little as he gazed down at her. “Sorry. I guess I should have warned you about that. I never told you I could take different forms, did I?”
“No, no you didn’t.” Gail stood up, seeming just a little dazed, and glared hard at him. “How was I supposed to know a tiny little kitten would actually be an angel in disguise?”
“I mean it is the perfect disguise, wouldn’t you agree?” Cecil said with a faint smirk.
Gail let out a deep breath and stared at him for a moment, then she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him tightly. Cecil flinched and didn’t seem to know what to do at first, but then he wrapped his arms around her and smiled.
“I missed you,” Gail whispered. “I missed you so much.”
“Hey, I’m here now. You don’t have to worry.” Cecil hugged her closer. “I’m not leaving again, at least not right away.”