“What do you mean not right away? You’re not going to leave again, are you?” Gail scowled at Cecil, gripping his arm a little tighter. “You just got here. You’re my guardian, aren’t you? You’re supposed to stay with me.”
“Yes, well a lot has been happening and it’s… complicated.” Cecil rubbed the back of his neck and sighed, sitting down on the edge of Gail’s bed. “I’m sorry I didn’t come back sooner, I really should have.”
“Yes, you should have.” Gail crossed her arms as she stared at him. “I haven’t seen you since Halloween. Where did you go?”
“I was running away from my brother,” Cecil said, looking a little bit ashamed of himself. “He’s not here, is he?”
“No, he isn’t,” Gail said. “We need to talk about that, but were you aware of the fact that a demon attacked me when you ran off?”
Cecil’s eyes widened as he stared at her. “What? A demon?”
“Yes, probably the one that’s been chasing after you. After you and Cynder both ran off, it just-” She cut herself off and heaved a breath.
Cecil rubbed his hands over his face and hissed something that Gail couldn’t quite make out. “I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry. I never meant for this to happen. It was Cynder, him being there-”
“We need to talk about your brother, Cecil,” Gail said, stepping toward him and grasping him by the shoulders. She looked him right in the eye and murmured, “You said he’s a fallen angel, right?”
Cecil swallowed and nodded his head. “Has he been here again since I left?”
“He has,” she said with a nod. “No, he didn’t hurt me or do anything. He told me some interesting things, though. He told me why he’s looking for you.”
Cecil frowned and turned away from her. “And why would that be? To tell me he won our little bet from before?”
Gail blinked at him. “Bet? What bet? No, he said…” She inhaled and took a step back. “He told me that he was a fallen angel at one point but he’s changed and he isn’t fallen anymore.”
“That’s impossible,” Cecil said with a shake of his head. “Once you’re fallen you can’t be redeemed. It doesn’t work that way.”
“Doesn’t it?” Gail tipped her head to the side. “He said fallen angels can’t heal others. Is that true, too?”
“It is,” Cecil confirmed, then he turned his attention to her and frowned. “Did he-?”
“It wasn’t anything major,” Gail said. “He was looking me over to make sure the demon hadn’t hurt me, but he did heal a few cuts and bruises I had. He said his job is to be a healer, in fact.”
Cecil stared at her for a few moments before shaking his head again. “No, no… that’s impossible. There’s no way.”
“He’s looking for you to tell you all of this himself,” Gail said. “And he wants to help you get rid of the demon that’s been following you. He says the only way to do it is if you both work together to destroy it.”
“What does he know about any of this?” Cecil hissed. “I haven’t even seen that demon since…” His voice trailed off and he grew silent, staring off into the distance.
“Since when?” Gail asked. “Since that first time you disappeared?”
Cecil swallowed and nodded his head once. “It hasn’t come back since then…”
“It was here at Halloween,” Gail said rather bitterly. “It attacked me. It’s using your fear of your brother against you, you know.”
“Gail,” Cecil said sharply, his tone sending a little shiver through her. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do but the fact of the matter is you don’t know what you’re talking about. These are matters beyond your understanding.”
Gail scowled at him. “Are they really? Or is it just that you don’t want to face them? Cecil, please, I want to help you, but you have to let me in so I can do that.”
Cecil looked at her with an almost hollow expression. “I’m supposed to be your guardian,” he said. “I’m supposed to be the one helping you, not the other way around.”
“You haven’t been doing a very good job of that recently,” she said with a huff. “And who says humans can’t help angels with their problems? Why can’t we help each other?”
He sighed and leaned back on the bed, peering up at the ceiling. “It’s dangerous. I don’t want you to get hurt, not on my account.”
“Who says I would?” Gail murmured.
“That demon went after you.”
“It wouldn’t have been a problem if you hadn’t run away.”
He sighed again and rubbed a hand over his face. “Well… I don’t know. I think I need to think about this some more before I decide what to do.”
“And what about your brother?” Gail asked. “He wanted me to call him when you got back but he said he wouldn’t come unless you agreed to see him yourself.”
Cecil flinched and turned his face away from her. “I need some time to think about that, too. Maybe you’re right, maybe he has changed, but I just can’t handle seeing him at the moment. You understand that, right?”
Gail let out a deep breath and nodded her head. “Yeah, I understand that completely, but I think he really does want to help you. Please at least think about seeing him, talking to him? Don’t just run away again.”
“I’ll think about it,” Cecil said. He slowly got to his feet and looked as if he were ready to walk out. Gail reached out and grabbed him by the wrist, frowning.
“You can’t be leaving again already. You just got here.”
“I just need somewhere to go so I can think,” Cecil said. “This isn’t the place to do it.”
“Cecil.” Gail tightened her grip on his arm. “You’re supposed to be my guardian, aren’t you? How are you going to be my guardian when you keep leaving me like this? I don’t… I don’t want you to go again.”
Cecil’s eyes widened a little and he wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Yeah. I have been kind of a lousy guardian recently, haven’t I? I’m sorry, but I’m not sure how good a job I can do when things aren’t right with me.”
Gail loosened her grip and sighed. “Yeah, I think I get it, but do you have to leave right now?”
“Well, I suppose I could stay with you tonight,” Cecil said quietly. “Would you mind sharing a bed with a kitten?”
Gail made a sound in her throat and choked out a soft laugh. “Not at all. I’d love it, actually.”
Cecil smiled at her. “Then I’ll stay the night.” He wrapped both arms around her and gave her a hug. Gail held onto him tightly and smiled, and the next moment she was holding a small purring kitten. She sighed and settled onto her bed again, lightly petting his ears.
“Now we have two cats named Cecil,” she murmured with a faint smirk. “Haley can’t find out about you, though. You’re all mine.”
The little orange and white kitten mewed in response and licked her hand delicately. Gail sighed sleepily and curled up under the covers of her bed, holding him close to her. He snuggled against her neck and purred loudly, lulling Gail closer to sleep.
“G’night, Cecil,” she murmured. Her eyes fell shut and soon she was fast asleep, undisturbed by dreams or anything else.
When she woke the next morning, the kitten was nowhere to be found. Cecil had gone once more and there was no telling when he would be back.
As finals for that semester came, Gail and Haley both found they were getting less sleep in their attempts to finish up their projects. They spent long nights at diners and coffee shops doing everything they could to stay awake so they could finish in time. Even Ivan was leaving them alone in order to get his own work finished, which was Gail’s only saving grace during that time.
After everything was over, Gail didn’t want to do anything but take a nice long sleep, but her stress hadn’t ended quite yet. “Christmas break,” she muttered. “Nothing relaxing about it at all.”
“Well, if you’ve got an annoying family anyway,” Haley said with a shrug. “Christmas at my family’s is pretty great, but we don’t make a huge deal out of anything, either.”
“Oh please let me come with you then,” Gail said. “My whole family is going to be there and it’s going to be a nightmare. It’s never been fun getting together for the holidays with them, but considering all that’s happened this past year, it’s going to be even worse.”
Haley gave Gail a sympathetic look. “Hey, maybe things won’t be as bad as you think. Maybe they’ll be more understanding, you never know.”
“You’re optimistic,” Gail muttered. “But you’ve also never met my extended family. If anything, they might end up being worse.”
Haley sighed and nodded. “I used to have an aunt who liked to run her mouth and basically do nothing but gossip and complain, so I do know what it’s like. I’m sorry. I wish there was something I could do for you.”
Gail shook her head. “No, I’ll be fine probably. I just have to grit my teeth and bear it, I guess.”
“Hey, do you think you could take Cecil with you?” Haley asked. “I mean, I’d take him, but my dad is actually allergic to cats so it wouldn’t be a good idea.”
Gail blinked then nodded her head. “Right, sure, I can take him no problem. It’ll be nice to have a friend there to hide with in my room.”
“Plus I think he likes you just a little bit more than me anyway,” Haley said with a sly grin.
Gail huffed and shook her head. “Yeah, sure. Maybe that’s because I ended up taking care of him more than you did.”
“Maybe a little bit,” Haley said with a chuckle.
The day came for both of them to leave for home. Gail gathered up her things and took them out to her car, then she got some of the cat’s things together and brought them out as well. She set the cat in the front seat where he immediately began sniffing at everything. Gail turned to Haley and smiled.
“Hey, I have a present for you. Don’t open it until Christmas.” She handed over a small package and gave it to Haley.
Haley grinned and took it before digging into her bag and handing over a similarly wrapped package to Gail. “Same for you.”
They hugged each other then Gail got into her car and turned on the engine. Haley waved at her as she pulled out of the parking lot. “Drive safe, text me when you get there!”
The cat crawled all over the car sniffing at everything for a time, but finally he settled in the back seat and fell asleep and Gail was able to relax a little more as she made the long drive back home. She didn’t think about the stress and aggravation she would inevitably endure at the hands of her relatives. She just watched the road as she drove and listened to the quiet music playing on her stereo.
It was peaceful. A light powder of snow had settled on the ground which sparkled in the sunlight. Gail pulled over a couple of times to take some pictures before continuing on her way.
The drive was the most relaxing part of her Christmas break. As soon as she pulled into the driveway of her mother’s house, she already realized it was going to be chaos. Several other vehicles were parked there already. Grandparents or aunts and uncles or cousins, probably. She let out a heavy sigh and pulled out her bags from the back, picking up Cecil and waking him from his nap. He squirmed slightly in her arms for a moment then stared with wide eyes at the new place they were in.
Gail walked up to the door and gave a little knock before going inside. “Mom, I’m here!”
Gail’s mother appeared with a wide smile on her face. “Oh, Gail! I’m so glad to see you.” She gave Gail a hug, careful about the cat and giving it an odd look, but she didn’t say anything about him. “Why don’t you go take your things to your room? Everyone else will want to see you.”
“Of course they will,” Gail mumbled. She took her bag and the cat upstairs to her bedroom and set everything down on the bed. Cecil began sniffing around, looking wide eyed at everything. Gail rubbed his ears for a moment and murmured, “You just stay here for awhile. I’ve gotta go see everyone else, as much as I don’t want to.”
The cat made no objections and took to exploring the room as Gail went out and closed the door behind her. It’d be best that he stay put for the time being and not get lost in some other part of the house. Plus with all the other people around, he’d probably just want to hide anyway.
Gail’s grandparents were both there, along with her aunt and uncle and their son, who was much younger than Gail and not even in high school yet. Her mother informed her that more relatives would come on Christmas day, but the ones who were here now would be staying over for the week like she was.
“Great,” she muttered under her breath. “A whole week, I can’t wait.”
“Abigail,” her mother said with a stern look. “I understand why you acted the way you did last time, but it’s Christmas now. Please try to at least act pleasant around them for once. They’re your family, after all.”
“It’d be easier if they were pleasant to be around,” Gail said. Her mother gave her a death glare and Gail immediately cleared her throat and put on a smile. “Yes, I will, but no promises that I’ll be pleasant the entire time.”
Her mother sighed and shook her head, apparently giving up on trying to make Gail act perfect the whole time. She left the room to go and do something else and Gail helped herself to some hot chocolate bubbling on the stove. She peered out the kitchen window toward the hill far at the back of the property where the pond and the woods were. She remembered how she and her brother used to go out and play in those woods every single day, and she frowned at that memory.
With a sigh, Gail decided to go and say hello to her other relatives. She could get that out of the way and then make the excuse she was tired from the drive and go sit in her room awhile, maybe take a nap with the cat. Just before leaving the kitchen, she took one last look out toward the woods and felt a strange fluttering in her chest.
“Welcome home, I guess.”