“They’ve been gone a long time. I’m worried about them.”
“You did say they promised to come back when they were finished, did you not?” Isaac asked, tilting his head to the side.
“Yeah, but that’s the thing. I thought they would’ve been back by now. I mean, I don’t know what demon hunting entails but it seems like it should’ve gone quicker, you know?”
“Mm.” Isaac pressed his fingertips together and leaned forward, peering at Gail. “Are you afraid something might have happened to them?”
Gail set her jaw and turned her face away from him, nodding her head once. “Yeah. I don’t know if I could deal with that. It’d be like losing my brother all over again.”
“I believe they will be fine,” Isaac said, a solemn smile on his face. “They’re angels, after all. Perhaps tracking the demon down is taking them longer than they anticipated, or perhaps that sort of thing doesn’t work on the same time scale as it would for those of us on Earth.”
Gail stayed quiet for a long moment and gazed out through the window on the opposite side of the room. “I just got used to him being here all the time. I miss him a lot. It’s hard.”
“I understand,” Isaac said. “But he’ll be back. And…” He paused for a moment, as if looking for the right words. “Perhaps it’s a good thing you get used to him being gone. Him being with you probably won’t last forever as it is.”
Gail turned her gaze on him, looking just a little startled. “What do you mean by that?”
“There is a possibility that he’ll be leaving you for good at some point, Gail. You should be ready for that.”
“How would you know?” Gail shot back. “How do you know about any of this for that matter? Are you just humoring me, or do you know more than you’re letting on?”
Isaac held his hands up. “Easy, Gail. Just take a deep breath. I’m not simply humoring you, but…” He paused and sighed, lowering his hands. “No, I don’t know what’s going on with any of this, you’re right. I’m merely suggesting. Your guardian may not be with you forever because there will come a time when you don’t need him and he needs to move on.”
Gail breathed in deeply and leaned back on the sofa, shaking her head a little. “I guess I never thought about that before, but I guess it makes sense.”
“But who’s to say? Anything is possible after all.”
“Yeah, well… it’s something to think about, I guess.”
Isaac smiled sympathetically. “Aside from that, how is everything else going with you? Are your studies coming along well?”
“Yeah,” she said with a little nod. “Work load is getting a little heavier, but I’m managing fine. Everything’s going okay, except…”
“What?” Isaac asked, tilting his head to the side.
Gail let out a heavy breath and muttered, “My friend Ivan is getting worse and worse and I can hardly stand being around him anymore.”
Isaac raised an eyebrow. “Oh? How is that?”
“He’s being possessive of me, basically.” She scowled at the thought and rubbed a hand over her face. “Anytime he sees me near another guy, like if I’m just casually talking to someone, he starts asking all kinds of questions and acting like some sort of alpha male, and I’m sick of it. I’m not even dating him for crying out loud!”
Isaac narrowed his eyes and nodded his head. “I see. Well, it seems to me that the solution would be to stop being friends with him.”
“Yes, I know.” Gail sighed and shook her head. “I’ve been putting it off for way too long because I knew it was going to be hard and painful, but… you’re right. Everyone’s been telling me the same thing. I’m just having a hard time bringing myself to do it doing it.”
“Don’t stress yourself out about it,” Isaac said. “Do it on your own time, but don’t let it keep hurting you either. Your safety and stability is what’s important here.”
“I know.” Gail inhaled and shook her head. “I’ll do it as soon as I get the opportunity. Thank you.”
“Of course.” Isaac smiled and stood with her, taking her hand and shaking it. “If you ever need to talk about anything else, you know my door is always open to you.”
“Chances are I will, especially once I get this done and over with.” She stepped out of his office then glanced back at him and smiled a little. “Thanks for all of this. It really does help.”
“It’s why I’m here, Gail.”
Gail didn’t see Ivan at all that day which made her feel a little better. It just gave her an excuse to put off confronting him for a little way longer. Any time she thought about actually telling him she began to feel sick to her stomach.
“You know what?” Haley said after Gail explained it to her, “I’m ready to give him a piece of my mind. I don’t even think he realized that I stopped talking to him and hanging out with him as much as I used to. Funny considering he was my friend first.”
“I don’t know how good an idea that would be,” Gail muttered. “I doubt he’d listen to you about anything like that anyway.”
“No he probably wouldn’t, but I still want to give him a piece of my mind anyway. It’s ridiculous and he’s being totally out of line.”
“Yeah, well what do you think I should do about it? I’ve basically just been doing my best to avoid him as much as possible. I don’t really feel right about suddenly going and approaching him.” Gail sighed heavily and shook her head. “I don’t know what to do.”
Haley leaned back, a thoughtful look on her face. “Well at this point I think you should just go and do it. Confront him. Tell him why you’ve been avoiding him so you can make this all end. If you want I could even set it up for you. Tell him you want to talk to him at a specific time and place, that way you can’t back out of it.”
“That sounds like something you would do if you wanted to ask someone out for the first time,” Gail said with a frown.
“Mm, true. Not so elaborate, then. I’ll just tell him you want to talk about something and it’s serious. Does that sound okay?”
“I… I guess.” Gail groaned and leaned her head back. “I just don’t want to do this at all.”
“That’s exactly why I’m the one telling him,” Haley said firmly. “So you won’t be able to back out of it. Honestly you probably should have had this conversation the moment he started acting like you owed it to him to go out with him.”
“Yes, I get it, Haley. You don’t have to keep reminding me. Everyone has told me this including Cecil.”
Haley laid a hand on Gail’s shoulder, her expression softening. “Hey, I’m not blaming you, I just don’t like seeing you get hurt over this. It’s unfair of him to do this to you. I just want you to be okay.”
“I know.” Gail leaned lightly against Haley and nodded her head. “You’re right. I should just get it done and over with. Yeah, go ahead and tell him, it will make things a little easier for me, and if you could be nearby when I talk to him, too.”
“I will be,” Haley said with a smile, wrapping an arm around Gail’s shoulders. “We could even go out somewhere when it’s over to get your mind off it, whatever happens when you talk to him. My treat.”
“What’d I ever do to deserve a friend like you?” Gail said with a slight smile.
“Since you put up with all my bullshit,” Haley said with a grin. “I’m happy to return the favor, or in this case I guess it’s someone else’s bullshit that you’re having to deal with. Same difference, really.”
“Can’t argue with that, I guess. Go ahead and tell him. I’ll talk to him tomorrow after classes are over.”
“You got it.” Haley pulled out her phone and sent Ivan a text. “No backing out of this now.”
Gail swallowed and nodded her head. “Yeah. Looks like I’ll have to finally tell him.”
Gail had trouble sleeping that night and the next day she found it terribly difficult to concentrate on anything she was doing. Her stomach hurt and she could hardly eat. All she could think about was her eventual confrontation with Ivan that day and the many different ways it could turn out horribly. Now more than ever she wished Cecil was there with her.
When her last class was finally over, Gail went to sit in the gazebo, clutching a cup of black coffee to keep her hands warm in the chilly end of winter air. Her phone buzzed and she pulled it out to see Haley had sent a text. “He’s coming.”
A moment later Gail glanced up to see Ivan heading toward the gazebo. Her stomach turned and she swallowed back the urge to run and hide. She’d put this off for far too long as it was. She had to tell him once and for all.
“Hey,” he said as he walked up to her, a slight smile on his face.
Gail let out a deep breath and nodded to him. “Hi. I guess you talked to Haley?”
“She told me you wanted to talk to me, yeah,” he said with a nod. “I’m glad. I’ve been wanting to talk to you, too, but I just kept missing you.”
“Yeah, well…” Gail hesitated a moment and mumbled, “What did you want to talk about?”
“Well, spring break is next week and everyone’s going off and doing something fun. I was wondering what you were planning on doing.”
Gail narrowed her eyes at him. “Wasn’t really planning on doing anything but staying here. Catch up on some stuff I have to do. What about you?”
“Ah, well I didn’t really have any plans yet, but I was hoping that maybe…” He paused and ran a hand through his hair. “So, uh, we’ve kinda grown apart lately and I was thinking we could do something fun. Like we used to. Go hang out somewhere, maybe?”
“What, like at the mall?” Gail asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Maybe, like, going on a trip together to do something fun. Haley could come too and bring Janae.”
Gail stared at him for a long moment before frowning. “That sounds like a date.”
“Oh, does it?” Ivan laughed a little nervously and cleared his throat. “Yeah, maybe it does. Well…” He sighed and shook his head. “Look, Gail, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently since it seems like you’ve been avoiding me. I think I know why we’ve been falling apart. It’s my fault and I’m sorry. I guess I was kind of being a jerk.”
Gail raised her eyebrows and stared at him. “Yeah, well… yes, you have been.”
Ivan nodded his head slowly. “It was wrong of me to ask you out when I did. Your brother had just died after all, and you were grieving, and maybe you still are. I shouldn’t have tried to take advantage of that fact to get close to you. I should have waited.”
Gail made a sound in the back of her throat and pressed a hand over her face. “You are aware that’s not the reason I said no, right?”
“I know, I know, you said you weren’t interested in dating, but I mean, I doubt anyone would be when they lost someone so close to them like that. I should have realized that sooner, and I’m sorry.”
Gail shook her head slowly and murmured, “Well thanks for the apology but you’ve got it all wrong. I’m not interested in dating because I’m not interested in dating; it has nothing to do with my being sad or anything. I really doubt anything is going to change that, either.”
“Really.” Ivan stared at her with a rather disbelieving look in his eyes. “Well, what about those other guys you’ve been talking to? That friend of yours who was here before, Cecil was it?”
“What about them?” Gail asked, sounding rather exasperated. “Am I not aloud to have male friends besides you or something?”
“No, I just- are you dating anyone or aren’t you?”
“No, I’m not, and I don’t plan to be ever!” Gail shot back. “God, Ivan, this is what I wanted to talk to you about in the first place. You’re being a dick and trying to control me. I’ve been avoiding you because I can’t stand being around you anymore. If you were really my friend you wouldn’t act like the only way you can be around me is by being my boyfriend. What is wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me?” Ivan stood up and glared at Gail. “Look, Gail, I’ve tried to be patient with you, I’ve tried to be understanding, but frankly you’ve been coming across as selfish lately. You’ve been acting like it’s all about you. Why don’t you think about someone else’s feelings for a change instead of obsessing over yourself and your dead brother!”
The moment those words left his mouth a cold chill blew through the air. They stared at each other with wide eyes and it was clear Ivan regretted what he had said. Gail didn’t give him time to say anything else or even apologize. She backhanded him across the face and hissed, “I don’t want to talk to you ever again, got it? Never.”
She stormed away from the gazebo and across campus as fast as she could, never looking back at him. By the time she got to the parking lot, she pressed her face into her hands and let out a shaky breath, holding back tears pricking at her eyes. Haley appeared beside her a moment later and laid a hand on Gail’s shoulder.
“I was watching,” she said quietly. “I saw everything that happened.”
“Fuck him,” Gail growled.
“That’s exactly what I told him after you left,” Haley said with a nod. “Hey, do you wanna go somewhere and try to forget all that? We’ll take you anywhere you like.”
Gail leaned against her car and murmured, “I dunno. I want to go home right now. I feel sick and I just want to lay down.”
“Right, of course.” Haley nodded and patted her on the shoulder. “Go home. I’ll be there soon.”
Gail nodded her head and got into her car. The moment she got home she went to her room and collapsed on her bed, burying her face in her pillow. The cat jumped up with her and nudged his nose under her arm. She hugged him close against her and let out a shaky sigh.
“Gail, get up, I need your help.”
Gail shot up the instant she heard the voice and turned to see Cynder standing there, an earnest look on his face. “Cynder? What’s wrong? Where’s Cecil?”
“He’s what I need help with,” Cynder said. “We were hunting down that demon but something happened and he ran away.” He grimaced and curled his hands into fists and she thought she saw a hint of blue sparks dancing between his knuckles.
Gail stared at him for a long moment before sliding off her bed and walking over to him. “And how exactly am I going to help if he’s run off?”
“It’s where he’s run to,” Cynder said. “The woods behind the house you grew up in. He’s there, and so is the demon. I can’t get through to him and I think you’re the only one who will be able to. Please, you have to help me. You have to help bring my brother back.”
Gail swallowed then nodded her head. “Alright, I’ll do whatever I can.”