"Hey! Kellen. Did you get her digits?"
Kellen McBride glanced over his shoulder and seeing Chris walking toward him, blew out a sigh. The day that kid grew up, he'd go ice-skating with the devil.
"No. I forgot. My bad."
"Jesus, Kel. That's the third time you've 'forgotten'. You keep forgetting too much longer and she's gonna be forgetting about you. What's up with you, man? You're usually the first to claim the hot chicks. If you're saggin' for some reason, let a guy know. I could profit from you're newly acquired forgetfulness." Chris finished in a yawn, already wiped from the night's game that was barely through the fifth inning.
Kellen heard Coach Benton yell for him, and relieved, started for the pitchers mound. He was getting tired of everyone bugging him. Tired of Chris's nagging. The guy was like a brother, but he annoyed the hell out of him sometimes.
Pushing all thoughts aside, he concentrated on the familiar feel of his mitt, the feel of the threads that cradled the soft, leather baseball in his right hand. He drew in the warm, wet air and welcomed the sun's intense rays. When he was on the mound, nothing else mattered. It was his time, his place and his sanctuary away from his not-so-perfect world, a place to just be. He wasn't really one to complain, but lately, that's all he seemed to be capable of doing. Everything bothered him. If he wasn't absolutely positive he was male, he'd think he was suffering from PMS. The friends he'd known all his life suddenly annoyed him beyond belief. His parents were unexpectedly a burden. Hell, even girls were less interesting these days. If he didn't know any better, he'd think he was changing fields, about to be transferred to bat for the other team. But he refused that explanation. He didn't have any problem with those kinds of guys, but he sure as hell wasn't one of them. He loved women, which was why his sudden disinterest in them made it all that much more confusing.
Sighing for the second time in half a minute, Kellen studied his opponent, and then, after a brief but sure assessment, let the ball fly.
That's how she first saw him. Intense concentration evident on his face, and muscles relaxed but ready. He was stone still, and reminded her of a snake getting ready to strike. Then he did, and all she saw was a flash of movement, then heard the soft smack of ball hitting mitt. The crowd irrupted around her, startling her when only moments before they had been anxiously silent. She watched as the ball was thrown back to him and his hand leisurely reached up to catch it, as if it knew exactly where it would go. She'd grown up on baseball and knew a good pitcher when she saw one. And this guy was good. Great, even. He played with a languid grace. Every move was made with ease and intent, nothing was a mistake. He knew the game inside and out and knew what to do to get the results he wanted.
And he loved it, the game. She could tell by the way he held the ball. Gently, like a treasured jewel, the way he glanced around the diamond at each of his basemen before he threw. He played with skill, and as she watched him throw, then coil, and spring for fast balls, she was mesmerized. Who was this guy who played with such passion? Before she could fully think it out, someone close to her yelped and leapt away from her. Without conscious thought, her hand flew up to catch the ball that was aimed for her face. There was a loud smack, caused by the run away ball hitting her bare palm, but she barely flinched. Instead she glanced down at the worn heap of leather in her hand, then around her, noting the countless sets of surprised eyes trained on her, then finally at the field. On the mound stood the pitcher, his legs slightly spread and his eyes focused on her. They're eyes met, held for a few long seconds, long enough for her to acknowledge the mild surprise and appreciation lingering there, before she looked away to glare at the batter who stood gaping at her, his bat hanging from shocked fingers.
Standing, she grasped her journal and walked down the bleachers. Upon reaching the ground, she walked through the players opening and to the catcher's mound. Handing the ball over to the silent receiver, she looked at the batter.
"You may want to watch how you hit that ball from now on. I doubt anyone else in these stands could or would have caught that devil thing you tossed my way, and just a tip: keep your eye on the ball and not that pretty little number over there in the red mini and you may just actually hit it the right way."
After glancing once more at the still staring pitcher, she turned and made her way off the field and to the parking lot to her candy apple red '67 Shelby amongst the shocked silence. She could hear the announcer as he applauded her 'amazing feat' and smiled. It just wasn't an every day thing that the very first day you came to town, you made an impression like that.
"Miss Tilton, how good of you to finally join us."
Aiden could already tell that she wasn't going to like this class very much. Wednesday morning, first day at a new school and the plump, glasses-wearing, gray haired woman, known as Mrs. Winkler standing in front of her was huffing and glaring down her overly accentuated Roman nose at her. Smiling sheepishly, Aiden handed her the slip the office had given her only moments before. The cheerful receptionist had made her feel as if every one of her classes would be like sweet cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles. Yeah, right. This was like a lop-sided, double-layered fudge cake that had been left to bake too long.
"I'm sorry. Ms. Haller wanted to show me around first. I hope I'm not interrupting anything too important." The moment the words cleared her lips, she winced. The look she received from Miss Plump told her that claiming that even one single thing could not be of the up-most importance in her class was the equivalent of nonchalantly admitting to all seven sins. Aiden closed her eyes for a brief moment and sighed when she opened them to find Mrs. Winkler glaring at her.
"Well, we wouldn't want you to miss anything 'overly important', now would we Miss Tilton? Please have a seat so that we can begin with the more 'important' issues at hand."
Glancing around the room for available seats, Aiden sighed. This class was definitely going to be hell. Seeing only one open seat, she made her way over the maze of purses and backpacks that were strewn all over the aisles to the back of the room. When she sat,
Miss Plump began a speech that could have only been described as torture. Opening her journal, Aiden read her last entry and began to write another. Half way through, she felt a light tap on her right shoulder, turned and found herself face-to-face with the pitcher from Saturday afternoon.
Wearing a lop-sided grin that did something funny to her stomach, he said something she didn't hear.
"I said, don't be too intimidated by Mrs. Winkler. She's pretty harmless, unless you bump into her at the grocery store. Then she's a she-devil and will wrestle with you over the best batch of bakery cookies."
Aiden stared at him foolishly for a full minute, making his grin slowly fade and confusion to sift into his light green eyes. Then she smiled, laughed outright because the sudden image of this pitcher-boy and Miss Plump wrestling on the grocery store floor, grappling over a bag of cookies filled her head.
"I'll keep that in mind, but if those cookies are as good as I hear, I'm afraid ole Miss Plump is going to have a new wrestling component." Her grin widened as his eyes crinkled and a deep dimple appeared in his left cheek.
"Aiden…or Miss Tilton if you're feeling a bit Plumpy."
Kellen barked out a laugh just as Miss Plump paused in her lecture.
"Miss Tilton, is there something you and Mr. McBride would like to share with the rest of us?" Miss Plump asked edgily.
"No, ma'am. We were just introducing ourselves and discussing bakery cookies, wrestling, and our level of Plumpyness."
Kellen howled with laughter and Aiden grinned. She dimly heard Miss Plump asking them both to make their way down to the principal's office.
"Well, well, well. I was expecting you to introduce yourself in record time, McBride, but I didn't think you'd include Ms. Tilton in your escapades so quickly. Have a seat, you two. Ms. Tilton—"
"Aiden, then. How was the first …" Mrs. Felton glanced at the clock on her desk and gave a rueful smile. "…twenty minutes of your first day?"
Aiden smiled. "Good. From what I can tell, it'll be a…an eventful year."
Mrs. Felton laughed and typed something into her computer.
"Since I have this odd feeling that you're bound to make quite a ruckus in all of your classes, I think today should just be an exploring one. Kellen, I'm going to sign you out of your classes today so you can be Aiden's guide. Now, I expect her to learn something today, so if I see her walk in tomorrow morning, lost as a lamb, I'll be finding you before the first bell rings, understood?"
Kellen grinned. "Yes, ma'am. Sure thing. I'll show her anything and everything I can think of."
Mrs. Felton eyed him for a moment and looked as if she were about to say something, but the receptionist stuck her head in.
"Mrs. Felton? You're husband is on line one and you have a board meeting in ten minutes."
"Thank you, Margaret. Alright, you two. Skedaddle. You have run of the entire premises and I expect you to put it to good use, got it?"
"Got it.", they echoed.
"So, I think we should start by going by each of your classrooms, make it easier for you tomorrow, and then we'll start in on the more interesting aspects." Kellen suggested as the walked out into the hallway.
"M'kay. First one, I already know. Second is…Mr. Freedlen, Chemistry. Freedlen? What kind of name is that?"
"Everyone calls him Free or Freeze for short. You'll love him. He's great."
"And then it's…Grecker…and Beld…and Lankhurst…and Drogen…"
By the time they finished walking around the maze of hallways and paused at the doors leading outside, Aiden's head was spinning. Names, room numbers, numbered hallways, one-way hallways, turning left and right and left again until she felt all turned around. It was a new kid's nightmare.
"Do they sell maps in the school gift store?"
"Yeah, sure. You looking for an Atlas or just a city one?"
Aiden eyed him for a second. "I meant a school map, of the halls and rooms and stuff. I'm never going to remember any of this and you're going to get in trouble when I come in tomorrow, lost as a damn lamb, even though you showed me everything! UGH!" Her head felt ready to explode. She really didn't want to get this guy in trouble. He was just so…nice.
Kellen laughed. "Hey. Calm down. I won't get in trouble because you'll remember. It seems like a lot now, but it's only because it's all so new and jumbled. By the time you go home and get some rest, it'll have worked itself out."
"HA! Go home and get some rest? Yeah, right. That hasn't happened in over twelve years."
"Homework, baseball, and writing. Takes up all my time."
Kellen stopped walking and glanced down at Aiden.
"My dad and I practice after homework. We usually go until dark, sometimes later. I've been trying to pin down this new throw. I'm calling it Hell's Kitchen. It's magnificent, at least it will be once I figure out how to control it. Right now, it's got some shape, but nothing too serious, just potential. As for writing, I write stories, as in books, mostly fiction based off non-fiction. It was just a hobby till my mom snagged one of the books I'd finished and sent it to a publisher. They liked it but asked me to make a few changes and send it back in. We're waiting to hear back from them now."
Kellen stared down at her and felt something that surprised him, attraction. It was a hitch in his chest that heated and spread. He'd felt it at Saturday's game and again when she'd walked into Mrs. Winkler's room. All this time he'd been thinking he was going nuts. Now he knew he had just been waiting for someone new, someone different, someone interesting. And now here she was. Relief hit him square in the gut.
"You okay? You look kinda…funny."
"I feel kinda funny, too." Kellen grinned, and then laughed out loud. He lifted Aiden up and spun her in circles, whooping and laughing.
"What are you doing?!"
Aiden began to laugh with him. His sudden enthusiasm was contagious. She braced her hands on his shoulders as he continued to whoop and twirl her in the air. He set her down with a thump and gave her a monstrous hug.
"Thank God you decided to come to Huntington. You have no idea how great that is."
Aiden grinned. "I think I just might. Are you going to finish showing me around? Or just stand here hugging me all day?"
"Hmmm…that's a hard decision. Maybe I'll just think on it a few more…hours."
Aiden laughed and socked him on the shoulder playfully.
"Let me go, you dingbat! I want to see the baseball diamond."
Kellen reluctantly let her go, but tossed his arm around her shoulders as he steered her toward the diamond. Aiden smiled with pleasure. She was tall, a bit past five foot ten inches, but he must have been close to six foot five inches because his arm fit perfectly across her shoulders.
"Alright, alright. I'll let you see it. But no way are you setting even one dainty, little foot on that dirt."
Aiden pouted a bit. "Why not? Coach's orders or something?"
"Something. That's my dirt."
Aiden dug in her heals and narrowed her eyes at Kellen. "Oh, really? Is that so? Says who?"
Kellen grinned down at her and decided he liked the picture she presented when her feathers were all ruffled. "Says me."
"Pft! Well, that's just not a good enough reason for me. So, guess what?"
Aiden hiked up her pant leg to show him her sandal-clad foot.
"This 'dainty, little foot' of mine is definitely touching that dirt of yours and there's not a thing you can do about it, you Neanderthal!"
Kellen's eyes narrowed as he glared down his nose at her.
"Oh, really, Miss High and Mighty?"
Kellen crossed his arms loosely over his chest and rocked back on his heels a bit.
"Mmm hmm. Well, then, I guess there's really only one thing I can say to that."
Aiden raised a brow haughtily.
"I hope you're a fast runner."
Aiden's eyes clouded with confusion for a moment, then widened in understanding. She let out a yelp a moment before his arms clamped around her.
"You ain't goin' anywhere near that di—"
His words were cut off as Aiden disappeared from his grip. His arms spread wide, he turned around and saw her dashing for the gate to the diamond.
"You little minx!"
He took off after her, rounded the bathrooms and slid to a halt. There stood Aiden, with one pant leg raised and one dainty, little foot bare, hovering over the dirt.
"I happen to be a very fast runner." she said as she smiled.
His eyes narrowed into thin slits as he stared at her.
"You wouldn't dare."
One trim eyebrow rose as she cocked her head to the side.
"Wouldn't I?" she asked as her foot dropped to the ground. She glanced down in mock surprise, and gasped.
"Oh, my. I'm so very sorry. It just slipped. My leg must have had a spasm or something" She smirked at Kellen, and seeing his dark look, threw back her head and laughed.
"Don't worry, Kellen. It couldn't stay your dirt forever—"
She yelped as she saw him sprint towards her, then turned and ran, kicking off her other sandal as she went. She made it about five steps when he launched himself and tackled her, turning to cushion her fall. Then he rolled till she was pinned beneath him.
"I told you not to do it, but you just refused to listen. You shouldn't have done it. Now you have to deal with The Wrath."
Aiden gasped for air and laughed.
"What's The Wrath? A Lucha Libre wrestler? A sadistic poodle? An oompa loompa? A lost Star Wars character?"
Kellen glared at her, then attacked. His hands found her sides and began to rummage around. Aiden's eyes widened in panic and she began to struggle, then laugh.
"You beast! Tickling isn't fair! It says so in the Tickling Opportunity Rule Book!"
"I don't quite like the rule book. I don't like rules. Matter of fact, I rather prefer to break them then follow them."
Aiden began to answer, then howled with laughter as his fingers found her soft spot. She wiggled and writhed and bucked, but he wouldn't budge.
"Stop! I…can't…breathe! Not…fair! Stop it, you mongrel!"
She laughed uncontrollably as tears poured down her cheeks. He grinned down at her, enjoying the moment. Not wanting to suffocate her, he eased off the tickling, but kept her legs pinned in case she tried to make an escape.
Aiden laughed as she propped herself up on her elbows.
"Don't worry. I couldn't escape now, not even if I wanted to."
"I don't know about that. I went easy on you."
"HA! Easy my butt. You all but killed me. Maybe I should have asked for a different guide…"
"Pft. No one's as good as me. I'm the best of the best."
"Uh huh, and my name's Chuck."
Kellen grinned down at her and decided he really liked this girl. She was fun, quick-witted, feisty, sweet, and beautiful. He had a feeling this year was going to be pretty much amazing.
"Get off me, you ogre, before I beat you. I can't breathe. You're too fat. Coach know you weigh this much?"
Kellen laughed. "You witch! Kettle? Black? No way could you beat me, I'm stronger than you. You're just a pipsqueak compared to me."
Aiden stared at him a moment and he had a flash of uneasiness, thinking she may be one of those girls that worried insistently about their weight. Then she laughed and punched him in the shoulder.
"I could take you any day and it has nothing to do with my size. And I am not a pipsqueak, thank you very much."
Kellen grinned, relieved. "You wish. I could beat you with one hand tied behind my back, all fingers gone on the other except my pinky, and a bum leg."
Aiden laughed at the mental image that presented.
"Uh huh. You and your mamma."
"Oooo. Them fightin' words, right there. Better watch it. My fingers are feeling a little itchy…"
Aiden automatically reared back.
"Don't even think about it. I need to have some energy for tomorrow. Big day, long day."
Kellen laughed and rolled onto his back.
"Yeah, you do. Gotta deal with Miss Plump first thing in the mornin'. Ouch."
Aiden laughed. "Hey, so do you."
"Hmm, that's true. Well then. We better laugh enough today to last us through tomorrow, eh?"
Kellen suddenly grabbed Aiden, grinning when she yelped and tried to scoot away from him as he began another tickling round. Clouds floated past, the sun shone brightly and the sound of laughter filled the clear air. Life was good.
Sunshine Heights-Chapter 1
Twilight had painted the world grey and deadly shadows lengthened silently. A lone car sped down the deserted highway, the quiet purr of its powerful engine the only sound. Night had always had the special power to instill fear in even the bravest of men. The utter pitch of it allowed imaginations to grow and expand, to hear noises and see things that weren't really there, at least until six years ago when all the stories we thought of as folklore and the bedtime nightmares became a reality. Werewolves, vampires, ghosts, among other creatures that were so disturbing, our minds hadn't the capacity to make them up had begun to walk among the humans. They all came into conscious existence on that fateful night six years ago. Some believed the Apocalypse had arrived in a different form than told in the scriptures; others cared not how it happened, only of how to get rid of it. All were fated to ask the same question: Did these creatures evolve like everything else or was there some mystical reason for their existence?
Those of the Aureus Orbis knew the truth.
Once upon a time, I had been ignorantly and blissfully human. Then my parents had a surprise visitor. Fourteen months after our new move to Huntington my senior year, a Korlan snuck into our home. Korlans are the most evil of beings. They have no conscience, no sense of right or wrong. All they know is how to kill. If it were for survival only, it would be a different matter, but it is a vengeful need for the suffering of others. They don't just kill their victims; they torture them mercilessly and mutilate them until they are unrecognizable and a hare away from death, then feast on their hearts. I had been at a neighborhood baseball game while the Korlan tortured my parents. I returned home and walked in on the creature as it ripped my father's heart from his chest. My mother was already gone, her body soaked in blood and no longer resembling anything human.
I stood in shock for several moments, and then the grief and horror struck, along with an insurmountable fury that caused my flesh to burn. With a furious scream, I launched myself at the creature. At the time, I thought it was the fury and sorrow that lent me the inhuman speed and strength that allowed me to tackle the beast with such force it sent us through the wall. I barely recall beating it viciously, blocking its pathetic attempts to be free as if it were no more than a fly. One second I was flying at the Korlan, and the next I was standing over its prone body, its heart still beating in my hand. Then I collapsed, but not before crushing its black heart in my fist.
I woke in a pristine white room, the smell of lavender seeming sharper than normal, but still soothing. I lay there for what seemed like hours, my mind clouded and pounding in time to my heartbeat. Finally, I heard footsteps; male, about one hundred-eighty pounds, roughly six foot one. My brow furrowed as I processed this instinctive knowledge. The footsteps only seemed to be right outside the door, but it took several minutes until the man appeared. He was exactly as I'd predicted, and was wearing a white lab coat. He had a clipboard in his hands, and a pair of futuristic glasses sat on the bridge of his nose.
He smiled at me when he saw I was awake. He casually walked over to me and bent over me as he laid his hand against my forehead. He had kind hazel eyes and dark silky hair that shimmered oddly in the light. It seemed to move with a life of its own, and my curious hand reached up to pet it without conscience thought. He smiled broadly and a noise that sounded suspiciously like a purr rumbled in his chest. I snatched my hand away from the soft hair and scrambled as far away from him as possible as his eyes caught the light and glinted an emerald green.
His smile faded a bit, and he wrote something down on the clipboard.
"Sorry about that. I'm so used to seeing humans these days. I forget you have yet to be introduced to everyone."
My mind struggled to make sense of his odd choice of words.
"What's wrong with your eyes? Who are you? Was that a purr? And why are you talking of humans as if you're not…well, human."
The man laughed at my breathless croak of a voice as he pushed his glasses farther up his nose.
"That's a lot of questions. I suppose I shall answer the most important first. My name is Bradley and I'm a doctor. The nametag says Dr. Dredge, but no one really pays attention to that. Most everyone calls me Dr. D or Brad. Your choice."
I stared at the man that had decided his name was the most important question of the list. My temper had always been quick, especially when people beat around the proverbial bush and it showed no shyness now as my voice came out as a hiss.
"Could you answer the other questions, Doc."
The doctors' mouth pulled up into a rueful grin at my request that sounded more like a command as he settled himself at the foot of my bed. He glanced up at the glass entrance door and I briefly saw a shadow move before it disappeared.
"Well then. I shall go in order, I suppose. There is nothing wrong with my eyes. I've always had perfect vision and I've experienced no injuries that would affect their appearance. I already told you who I am. Yes, it was a purr. And I speak of humans as if I am not one because I'm not."
He looked at me for a long moment while I took this all in, then gasped in air as I forgot to breathe.
"There was an, uh, incident a little over two years ago, one that mildly changed the face of the human world. We basically showed up and crashed their drab, uninteresting and normal party. They refer to us as The Creatures...not really that creative, I know, but hey. What can I say? They're humans. We actually prefer Nonhumans. It's taking more time than we thought it would though, their ability to accept us. And you, my dear, have been in a nice little coma all this time. I bet missing out on all the action isn't really that nice though, for which I apologize. I wanted to give you enough time to heal and adapt to your new self before awakening you. You seem to be quite alright so far, which is a relief. You're a very important asset to this world, you know."
He smiled innocently and my eyes narrowed as I studied his face and weighed the possibility of him being a crazy loon. It seemed more rational than believing his story. But he was staring at me with nothing more than calm friendliness and I could detect no lie hidden in the depths of his eyes. Either he was telling the truth, which was doubtful as it was highly impossible, or he really believed all this nonsense, which made him insane. I might be more inclined to believe the latter, but my mother had always said I had a nose for the truth and his story reeked of it. The thought of my mother brought a pang of sadness to my heart and I realized I had no recollection of her. Other than the feelings of love and sorrow, I had no memory of her. Not of her voice, her hair, her eyes…nothing. There was a black hole in the place of my memory and it made my skin clammy and my heartbeat accelerate the more I pushed against it, trying to remember something, anything. Fear turned to fury and caused sweat bead my forehead and my skin to flush. I felt as if I had suddenly been thrown into a blazing fire. The room of white was now red and I could no longer see the doctor. All I saw was blood, their blood. The thing, the monster. He was killing them.
"Mom! Dad! Noooooo!I heard a scream then belatedly realized it was mine. I felt like I was dying. I could feel the anger and grief pulling me deeper into the oblivion I knew had to be death. What else could be this horrible, this torturous? I raced toward it, wanting to be rid of it, of everything. I ran for the glimmer of light reaching out for me...
Then it was all gone.
An angelic face hovered over mine, and warm amber eyes bore into mine. The heat fled and in its place was a soothing coolness. Hands gripped my face tight, forcing me to stare back. Relief faded into irritation. All I wanted was to be in the light, to be free.
This tawny eyed angel had withheld that from me.
There was the sound of flesh hitting flesh and suddenly the angel's eyes widened as he flew across the room to land against the wall. I glared at him hostilely then glanced down at my fist. It was still clenched tight, but now it had traces of bright red.
The room went black.
I came to a few hours later to find candles lit on the small table next to my bed and soft classical music wafting around the room. It was all so peaceful that I didn't move, afraid to break to luscious spell that wound around me. It was as if I was blanketed with cozy warmth, inside out.
I'd been lying there for an hour or so, just enjoying the mood, when I suddenly felt a presence. I looked around cautiously, but saw nothing but the shadows painted on the walls from the fragrant candles. I relaxed back into the lush pillows, closed my eyes and sighed. I wondered briefly what was outside that glass door, but decided it was probably just the wing of a hospital. Not very interesting to a girl who had spent her life avoiding them. They'd always given me this odd feeling, as if there were dead people walking around everywhere. It always seemed like I was the only one who felt them.
All at once, I felt someone at my side and my eyes blinked open to find nothing there. I waited for the feeling to pass, but it didn't. If anything, it got stronger, making me cringe to the opposite side of the bed. In annoyance, I reached over and picked up the small remote that was on top of my sheets and ignoring the ache of my cracked knuckles, threw it toward the door to signal someone, anyone that was on the other side. But it didn't make it to the door. It sailed exactly two feet before suddenly stopping and clattering to the floor as if it had hit something. Only, there was nothing there.
I stared at it for a long moment before I looked up to where it had hit the invisible something. I closed my eyes for a slight second, wondering if I was even awake before reopening them. What I saw would have shocked any stable someone, and I wasn't exactly in the most stable condition presently. Everything was now a mix of blues, greens, yellows and reds. Infrared. I could see the blip of heat that was the candles and the heat coming from my legs when I looked down. Then there was the tower of heat that stood two feet away from my bed in the shape of a man. A very large man.
"What in the he--?!"
My screech was suddenly cut off as the man blurred and what I gathered as his hand came to rest gently, but firmly over my mouth. I struggled for about two seconds until realizing it was completely pointless. The man was just as strong as he was big.
"Promise to be quiet and I'll remove my hand."
I blinked at the silky smoothness of his voice, and then nodded my head furiously, wanting to be away from whomever it was holding me captive. The blinking had made my vision switch back to normal and the man disappeared again. It's a weird sensation, being held without being able to see the one holding you. I really didn't like it.
"I swear, if you make one move to scream, you'll regret it."
A part of me shivered at the iron truth behind that threat, but it was a very small part. Most of me just wanted to sock him in the jaw.
There was a sudden flux in the room and power seemed to leak in and surround me as he brought his form back to himself. The said man was standing bent over my bed, the light at his back, but my eyes apparently had more than one 'special' mode as I could see the exquisite lines of his face as clear as day.
He had the face of an angel, a dark and dangerous one, but nonetheless angelic. Jet-black hair was left long, but well cut, just brushing his collar, complimenting his tanned skin. Hard planes, a strong squared jaw that sported a good-sized bruise on the left side and a chin that was a testament to its owner's stubbornness made up his beautiful face. Thick black lashes highlighted the liquid amber of his eyes that seemed to be glowing as if lit from within. He looked like an older version of Kellen.
My body reacted to the name with joy, then a pain that made my muscles cramp. Tears flooded my eyes, and then spilled over to run carelessly down my cheeks. I collapsed backwards into the bed and away from this man that caused me such sorrow, sobs suddenly tearing from my soul. I turned my back on him as my body curled into a defeated ball and decided I didn't care if the man made true on his threat. The pain for a boy I didn't remember kept me from caring.
The man didn't move for several moments and when he did, it wasn't in the way I expected. He lay down behind me, fitting his long body around mine, his arms coming around to cradle me against his massive chest. His face was pressed against my hair as he softly began to hum. It wasn't long until his deep voice coaxed me to sleep.
When I emerged from a deep sleep, I was still sheltered by his body. I could feel the slight movements of his chest and his steady breathing that signaled he was asleep. I weighed the idea of staying as I was or turning over to face him. It took me a good ten minutes to decide, and another five to successfully turn around without waking him. The moment I was on my side, I went lax.
I lay there for a few moments, gathering the courage to open my eyes. In the end, irritation at my childishness won over and my eyes slowly blinked open. I stared at the forest green t-shirt hiding his chest, and then let my gaze wander upwards. His lashes lay like ash smudges on his cheeks, hiding those stunning eyes of his. He didn't look so dangerous in sleep. He looked younger, almost boyish. More like Kellen.
The pain was more of a dull throb this time, but it still brought tears to my eyes. As luck would have it, that's when the Kellen look-alike decided to wake up. His gaze caressed my face for a moment, then his thumb gently swept away the tears. His hand lingered on my wet cheek a second longer than necessary before he sat up, pulling me with him. Our movement caused the flames of the candles to flicker and his eyes caught the light. My breath hitched and I leaned slightly away, remembering what had happened to Doc's eyes when the light hit them, but instead, his seemed to retain the light making his amber eyes golden.
"What are you?"
Had I not been so intent on his eerie eyes, I would have noticed that my voice was both high-pitched and shaking. Neither were ever a good sign when it came to me. Apparently Mr. Freak Show realized this because he hit a button on the wall that I hadn't noticed yet and exactly two seconds later, Doc strolled in, turning on the bright yellow lights that pulled a hiss from me and brought back my headache.
"How are you feeling, dear? I had hoped the atmosphere would have sufficiently relaxed you."
My eyes automatically narrowed as my temper flared and my voice came out in a ferocious growl.
"I don't need to relax. What I need Doc, is some god dammed answers. It's a simple request and seeing as I've been in the dark for two full years, I think I deserve some info. So I'll start by asking two simple but very important questions. Where am I and who is this…this man? And I swear if you don't give me some real, honest-to-god answers, I won't be held accountable for my actions."
Both the Doc and the Rambo wannabe looked at each other for a few seconds that seemed to drag on forever before giving a mutual, indiscernible nod.
"Well, okay then. That man is Gabriel but he usually prefers Gabe and you are currently being observed at the NHWC, Nonhuman World Center. It's where we've been doing some extensive research on some species, but most importantly yours. You alone, actually. You see, and you may want to take a deep breath before I say this, you are a Seraph. The only known living Seraph, in fact. Now, a Seraph is the most elegant and sacred of all creatures. On the list of the most powerful and truly humbling creatures, it is absolutely and resolutely number one. It is also known in the human world as the angel of the highest rank of nine orders of angels in the traditional Christian hierarchy, but that's kind of a mouthful. Humans don't realize that many Nonhumans were the basis for most of their 'revered' religious legends, as well as nightmares. Quite ironically humorous, I think.
"Seraphs in infancy start off as humans, learning to deal with the intense emotions and the mistakes the human race as a whole makes, kind of like a trial run before they mature. You can usually spot one by their eyes. They're silver and are incredibly bright, as if there's some inner light shining out and the iris is ringed in black. Yours are a bit more interesting though, silver with black specks and an icy blue ringing the pupil.
"When a Seraph hits adulthood, normally between eighteen and twenty years of age in human years, they evolve, attaining their wings and abilities. Most usually spend the next couple of years learning to control them and dealing with the even more intense emotions they now have. See, as a human, emotions are powerful, yes, but as a fully matured Seraph, the intensity multiplies tenfold. So everything you're feeling now has been multiplied, making it difficult for you to control and conceal your emotions. For now, you're basically an open book."
The Doc sat in a lone chair a few feet from the bed and leaned forward eagerly, looking all the while like a child with some grand news.
"Before we found you, the last known Seraph to walk in this world was over one thousand years ago, you understand. You are the only one on the face of this planet presently."
I sat there on my plush recovery bed in a stumped silence. What would you do if someone had just told you you were really a previously thought make-believe-based-on-blind-faith heavenly winged spirit?
"So, I'm a, um, a… an archangel?"
The Doc took in my incredulous expression and after a quick grin, he replied with a quick, annoying 'yup.'
"Well that's just fabtabulous."
I was stuck in some world hospital with a bunch of looney toons. Lovely. I figured I might as well humor the psychos until I could figure a way out…
"That's actually really nice. So, uh, do I have any special features or anything? I feel kinda plain for being some awesome…creature. Shouldn't I have some wings or something? Maybe a halo?"
Laughing, the Doc stretched his legs out in front of him, reclining back into his chair and story.
"Yes, you do have wings but no halo, I'm afraid, although you have a rather peculiar glow about you, kind of like a visible aura. I've only known of one time your wings have unfolded and that was when we first found you. I've been trying to figure out when and why they appear, but so far, they haven't come out to play again. At first, I thought it was the trauma of your, uh, ordeal, but something similar happened earlier with no results. It might just be because you've been asleep. I'm pretty much at a loss on the wing thing, but I do know a few other things you might enjoy. There's your infrared sight, which I assume you've already played with. You can very subtly control the emotions of the people surrounding you, after you learn to handle your own, that is. You're quite the telepathic and are capable of extreme speed and strength, as was demonstrated when you knocked poor Gabe here across the room a few hours ago…"
My gaze immediately came to rest upon the well-sized bruise that decorated his fierce jaw. Gabe must be one heck of a fast healer because it already had that yellow color that signaled it was almost fully healed.
"…which was a change for him, I gather. Gabe is usually the one knocking people around here. Not often that he gets beat, much less by a little ole thing like you."
Doc smiled pleasantly as said Macho Man glared.
"Anyway, another interesting detail is that a Seraph doesn't have a lifespan, not really. They could live forever if they so chose. From what I know, most live for countless centuries then willing cross over into another realm where they 'die', but in a completely different sense of the word. It's more like evolving."
"Wait, you mentioned you've seen my…wings. What did they look like? Are they fairy wings or more like eagle wings?"
The Doc laughed at the reluctant interest in my voice.
"Well, I'd say that judging by your tall stature, your full wing span is around twelve feet, probably a bit more. From what I saw of the pretty things before they retracted, they're lustrous and the color of the purest white with highlights of silver and are more like the classic archangel wings in shape. When they retract, they basically disappear. That's another mystery I look forward to uncovering. The most interesting thing is the fact that you have an imitational tattoo of them that covers your entire back that looks very real. Obviously, you weren't aware of your gifts as a human, so the question is what inspired the tattoo?"
The Doc folded his hands calmly as he patiently waited for my response. Thing was, I didn't have one. I wasn't even aware I had a tattoo, much less one that covered that much skin. I'm no coward, but I don't go actively searching for pain either and just the thought of a needle jabbing ink into my spine over and over and over again…eek. Gave me the chills. I glanced from the Doc to Gabriel, attempting to formulate an appropriate response and wondered if there were more tattoos I didn't know about. Something warned me that informing them that I was completely unaware of the tattoos existence would equal lots more questions and possibly more sleep time for me and more poke-and-prod time for the Doc. My goal was to get away from these crazies, not stay for a research session. But I could tell Doc knew all that already. He just wanted an affirmation. But if I was going to be stuck here until further notice against my will, I refused to make it easy for them.
"I was on vacation and felt spontaneous. No real inspiration though. Just picked a picture out of a book and said go."
My voice stayed just nonchalant and uninterested enough to throw the Doc off. His brows pulled together for a split-second before he smiled.
"Well. That's quite a coincidence. You wouldn't happen to have any more inked pictures on you anywhere, would you?"
A dumb, deaf, and blind person recognized the bait in that question. And no way was I falling for it. I was a pro at verbal battles.
"Since you've already seen me nude Doc, I assume you already know the answer to that question, which means you are only trying to waste my time, something I don't appreciate, even if I haven't the slightest clue as to what I could possibly do in this drab room besides play with my newfound 'gifts'."
My smile was that of a smug winner.
"Touché, Miss Aiden."
I jerked at the use of a name I couldn't recall as belonging to me. It sounded so foreign, alien. Not a pleasant sensation to realize you don't even recognize your own name.
"What else can you tell me about me, about who I was before I came here?"
The Doc raised a solitary eyebrow and I immediately realized my blunder. I may as well scream the fact that I couldn't remember a blasted thing from my previously normal, non-crazy days from the rooftops.
"I mean, if you know so much about my new self, you must know plenty about me as a human. I'm curious as to just how much research you've been doing on me."
Doc stared at me for a few short moments before flipping through his ever present clipboard. I mentally wiped the sweat from my brow.
"Well, your full name is Aiden Roseanna Tilton and you'll be twenty-one this September fourteenth. You were born in Rosenberg, SD in nineteen eighty-four to Jennifer Isabelle Hunter-Tilton and Nicholas Markus Tilton. You're mother was what you would call a restless spirit and prompted moves to new cities every few years. She was also very talented at baking and had her own online business that was supremely successful. Your father was a carpenter who very much enjoyed his work. You had a family dog of a shepherd collie mix named Phil as a child that died of old age when you were fifteen. You kept his ashes in a Wish-A-Bone jar because they were his favorite and you couldn't bear to bury him and have him be left behind when you moved next. You have a profound love of baseball, pies and sports cars. You were accepted to Princeton University but were pondering the idea of attending a closer university because of a love interest at the end of your senior year by the name of Kellen Mitchel McBride. Tragedy struck when your parents were killed by a Korlan just over two years ago and he was…"
"Alright! I get it. You know everything about me. Congratulations on your thoroughness."
The Doc continued staring at me sympathetically and it was then that I realized he had yet to actually look at his clipboard. The bastard had my life memorized. My own damn life! And I couldn't even remember my own name. That and the fact he obviously knew the real reason behind my interruption, caused my insides to quake. Truth was I couldn't stand to hear another scripted word about the life and people I was supposed to have lived and known. The life and people I had eventually lost. My hand reached up to grasp the heart-shaped locket I always wore and landed on my bare neck.
Of course, 'always' no longer existed for me. I sighed and rubbed my eyes as the weight of my world descended upon my shoulders.
"Thanks for showing me up. I'll remember that next time I'm feeling ornery. Right now, I'd really like to do that relaxing thing you were talking about earlier, so if you two don't mind…?"
"Sure thing. You need all the rest you can get. I want to get you up and moving around in the morning and after lying prone for two years, I think it may be a bit more than you can han-"
The Doc's speech came to an abrupt halt as I appeared next to the door he and Gabriel were heading for.
"I'm sure I'll be fine, Doc. After all, I am a Seraph, right? No tellin' what I can do when I'm feeling inspired. Goodnight."
I finger waved through the glass door at the two stupefied men standing there in shock before heading back towards the bed. Apparently, neither suspected I should be capable of such strength after sleeping for two years. Even I was a tad surprised. I had just really wanted them out then BAM, there I am next to the door, ushering them out. No human should be capable of that so soon…but of course. No longer was I human. Right. This was going to take some getting used to. I'd never lived with psychos before.
As I reached the bed, I saw a sparkle come from under my pillow. When I lifted it away, what I saw made me gasp. There, sitting as daintily as ever, was my thin gold, heart-shaped locket. The familiar feel of it brought a little peace to my heart. I clasped it around my neck and snuggled back into the heaven that was my bed, my hand wrapped gently around its petite form. At least I had remembered the locket.
The last thing I felt was a cool breeze across my face that felt strangely like a caress before sleep claimed my weary soul.
Sunshine Heights-Chapter 2
"Hum hmmmm hum hum hum hmmmmmmm…"
A soft voice coupled with the glow of morning sunshine woke me the next morning. I lay listening to the sweet song before lifting my lashes a bit to reveal a small woman that reminded me of some story tale godmother. Flowing white hair was piled on top of her head with what I gathered were chopsticks, and her plump, smock draped figure swung about the room in tune to her humming, laying out fresh flowers and sitting a pile of clothes on a chair. It wasn't until she got closer that I saw the presumed chopsticks were actually a variety of pens and pencils and her smock was covered in cookie dough, with a matching smudge of flour on her cheek. The picture she presented was that of a warm, peach-cheeked red robin.
While I quietly watched, she disappeared out of the room, only to reappear with, oh god bless her, coffee and toast.
She came to stand next to the bed as I sat up. She smiled at me as she handed me the steaming cup of…was it? No, it couldn't be…I took a testing whiff.
Oh yes, it most certainly was.
It was a steaming cup of hazelnut vanilla coffee. I loved her instantly. I ignored the warning steam that lifted from the cup, and took a deep drink. The hot liquid flowed down my throat, tracing a warm, flavored path to my delighted stomach and as I closed my eyes, my entire being gave a sigh of pleasure.
"Oh my. Looks like you needed that. Don't worry, dear. There's plenty more where that came from."
She laughed at my overjoyed expression and walked back to the tray.
"There's toast here, if you're interested. Oh, and a change of clothes over there on the chair. I didn't think you'd want to be running around with your bum hanging out, so I took the liberty of getting your measurements from Bradley and rounding up some comfy outfits, since you strike me as a more casual type. Oh dear. Where are my manners? My name is Shirley and if you need anything, anything at all, you just holler and I'll whip something up. Just think of me as your fairy godmother."
A wink accompanied that last statement, which made me wonder if there was any truth to it. I smiled before I thought about what she had said.
"Doc has my measurements? Why? He gave them to you? Doesn't that violate the doctor/patient rule?"
"Well yes and no. It's common procedure when dealing with Nonhumans. I suppose humans do it differently, but then again, they were always the stubborn, do-my-own-thing type. And since I'm Bradley's mother, nothing is confidential. I didn't think you'd mind as it resulted in you getting some clean clothes…or was I wrong?"
If I had doubted her relation to Doc, that last remark would have convinced me. Now I understood where he got his skill. But unlike with the Doc, I felt contrite instead of irate. Maybe Doc needed to upgrade his appearance to old and homely.
"No, of course not. I guess I'm just not used to the way things work around here. I'll try to keep up."
"No need to fret, dear. You just eat up, hit the showers and get dressed. I'll be back in a bit to fetch ya."
Shower. I suddenly craved it more than anything in the world. My enthusiasm must have shown through when I asked where they were, because Shirley laughed jovially.
"Down the hall, to the left, green door, ya can't miss it. If your tone is anything to go by, I assume a shower sounds like heaven right now. So instead of me coming back, just take the elevator up to the penthouse suite where Bradley is waiting for you after you've taken a nice, long and hot one."
"Thank you Shirley. I really appreciate it."
My happiness at the prospect of a shower poured over into my gratitude and Shirley laughed and shook her head as she left me munching happily on my toast.
I arrived at the penthouse suite a good hour and a half later, having enjoyed my hot shower immensely. My skin felt warm and tingly and I was as languid as a cat on a Sunday afternoon. The elevator doors dinged my arrival and I walked into the living room, wondering at the beautiful paintings on the walls. Then I saw the black Grand Piano on a dais, the onyx paint reflecting the soft golden lights that seemed to beckon me. I had no idea if I even knew how to play. All I knew was I had to sit on its bench, stroke its flawless keys, hear its beautiful notes.
My fingers slipped over the ivory keys gently, getting to know them slowly. Then I slipped into Chopin's Raindrops Prelude, playing as effortlessly and graceful as if I had been playing for years. The notes rang out around me, lulling me with their elegance. My eyes closed as the music painted a soft picture of my life. Everlasting innocence and joy marred by grief and tragedy. Time seemed to slow in rhythm to the song and my heart beat was sure and strong. Human or Nonhuman, I was still me, even if I couldn't quite remember whom me was.
A slight noise from behind me, that of air moving through the windpipe caught my attention and I turned my head to the side to glimpse Gabriel leaning against a wall in the shadows, arms and ankles crossed as he observed me quietly. I kept playing, refusing to let his presence distract my peacefulness. Just then, the notes took on a tragic tone, telling my tale of sadness and utter grief. Passion moved through me like hot lava, causing me to sway in time to the music and my fingers to move more harshly against the keys. Louder and louder and louder, then deadly soft. Faster and faster and faster, then achingly slow. The story of life and death was being played out by my fingertips and those lovely ivory keys. A team of storytellers, hiding nothing, giving everything. Then a time of remembrance, of the joy and happiness once known and the realization that reality was only a breath away from fantasy.
The last soft, melancholic note rang out in the silence of the suite, my breath a hare faster than normal. Passion subsided and numb sadness flowed in woefully. A hand grazed my neck then settled on my shoulder comfortingly.
Neither of us said a word, just stared out the windows as the clouds rolled in and the rain began to fall.
"AH! There you two are! I've been looking everywhere for you!"
Gabriel and I turned as the Doc sauntered in wearing a beaming smile while waving about his clipboard. I was beginning to wonder if he ever put it down when he seemed to answer my unspoken thought by laying it on top of the piano to go about checking my forehead and pulse as usual.
"Where else did you expect to find us? You asked us to meet you in your suite. This is your suite, isn't it?"
I looked up at Gabriel, stunned to hear his voice. After all, the only time I'd heard it, it was more of a growl than anything and the only sensation it had inspired in me was one of annoyed warning. Now, it sent warm tingles up and down my spine with its richly deep timbre, even while dripping with sarcasm. If melted dark chocolate had a sound, this was it.
"Why yes, it just so happens it is. Thanks for the reminder. Now, would you two like to hear the fantastic news? Aiden?"
I realized both men were looking at me, the Doc with puzzled concern and Gabriel with a trace of something that might be called humor before it was replaced with his usual inscrutable mask.
"Um, sure. What's the uh, good news?"
"Not 'good' news, but fantastic news! Amazingly and unbelievably fantastic news! I just got a call from Kent Alvey, the guy who's been the head supervisor over at the TDC, and he says the grounds are almost finished! He says that by Friday morning, we'll be good to go. Isn't that wonderful?! We'll need to get you all ready, my dear, so that you'll be fully capable to start the process, but thinking back to last night, I have a feeling you'll be fine."
The Doc patted my hair as he walked over to the bar area to pour some water into a glass then brought it back over and handed it to me. As I lifted the glass to take a refreshing drink, he began again.
"I'll need your help, Gabe, in getting her all set up and comfortable. I want everything in place before she arrives. After she's all settled, then we'll start on gathering the others. They've been waiting a long time, dear, to meet you. I know Bectrice will be absolutely thrilled and Conner will surely enjoy making your acquaintance, albeit to Gabe's displeasure."
Doc laughed joyfully at the dark look Gabriel shot him and I turned in time to see a dull red blush creeping up his neck. Pondering that, I opened my mouth to ask what the Doc meant by all his babbling then forgot my questions as my eyes lighted upon a woman who had just entered the room.
She was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen.
She wore a chic business dress in a shade of red that could only be described as sinful with hair that was styled in a short bob and the color of pale gold. She had the bone structure of a royal and her skin was perfectly unblemished by even a freckle, as if they dared not mar its silken ivory. My ego cringed in instinctive dislike. I was sure even a goddess would be jealous of her beauty. She was just so…exquisite.
She smiled warmly as the Doc greeted her with a light kiss to both her cheeks, then walked to Gabriel to give him a fierce hug. A part of me wanted to rip her arms off him and toss her out the window, but I shoved that part away. I had no claim whatsoever over Gabriel and I didn't want one. Besides, I didn't even know this lady. She could be the sweetest person on Earth and I was already thinking ill of her simply because she was pretty.
Pretty? You mean Aphrodite in the flesh…
Docs introductions pulled me from my musings.
"Aiden, I'd like you to meet a very dear friend of mine. This is Scarlet O'trusse. Scarlet, this is Aiden Tilton, the lovely young woman I was telling you about."
Mon Dieu! Even her name is beautiful! What kind of place is this?! My thoughts quickly faded away as she knelt so that she was face to face with me and I noticed something that surprised me.
She was blind. Her eyes were the purest of whites, without even a hint of color, but there was no vacant expression like you'd expect. Instead, I felt as if she were staring directly at me and seeing everything, things that she shouldn't be able to see even if she had her sight. For a moment, the room was silent. The rain continued to beat against the glass and my breathing stayed shallow with shock. Then she held out a delicate hand.
"Hello Aiden. I'm so glad to finally meet you."
My hand mechanically placed itself in hers as I uttered an almost unintelligible hello as feelings of sheepish guilt beat at my brain. The moment my palm touched hers, there was a spark of heat and energy sizzled up my arm causing the hairs to rise. Suddenly, flashes were raiding my brain, random images that made no sense. I saw a woman staring at a man sitting at a table a few feet away from hers; an arch decorated in white roses; a couple standing on a porch, laughing as a young girl chased a puppy; a teenage girl crying as she ran up a flight of stairs; a hallway filled with lockers and kids with books; an empty baseball field; a large, crowded room filled with balloons and people swaying in pairs. Countless faces with a myriad of expressions exploded across my eyes in rapid succession while a symphony of voices assaulted my ears. Emotions took me hostage, making me laugh even as tears fell down my cheeks like a waterfall, even as anger caused my body to quiver. My mind felt numb and disconnected. Air scraped my lungs raw as I struggled to breathe and my body started to collapse in defeat.
One second I was sliding towards the floor, the next I was snuggled up against something warm and was floating across the room. I heard Gabriel's voice in my ear, whispering that everything was alright, that I'd be fine. I sighed trustfully and let the light slowly fade into darkness as my lashes lowered.
“I’m really getting tired of fainting every fifteen minutes. Think you could do something about that? I mean, you are a doctor, right? What if something is wrong with me and we don’t know it?”
I was propped up against a couple pillows with the Doc hovering over me, taking notes and periodically checking my pulse and pupil dilation, as he had been doing since I’d gotten out of the scan an hour ago. He laughed at my peeved tone.
“Yes, I am a doctor but I can’t fix everything. You’ve been prone for two full years. Your body simply isn’t used to being, well, used. It’s been on a nice long vacation so it’s going to take some time for it to get everything back in working order. The KTC results show that there’s nothing wrong with your brain or heart, no swelling or irregularity or anything that might cause me to worry and if I’m not worried, you shouldn’t be. All we can do now is make sure you stay mentally comfortable and get you moving about a bit more so you can rebuild your strength.”
“Mentally comfortable? Pft. Good luck with that. I’m pretty sure that’s an impossible feat in this place.”
“Yes, well. It is an awful lot to soak up in such a short amount of time, and I’d have liked to have eased you into it all a bit more slowly, but I’m afraid that really was an impossible feat. We’re running out of time and we didn’t have much to start with. If not for—”
I peeked around the Doc at the breathless voice to see a small woman with tiny glasses hiding soft brown eyes and a thick, untidy braid of brown hair falling over her shoulder dart through the door.
“Mr. Daniel is here and seems a bit impatient to get going. He’s adamant you come right away. I tried to tell him you were busy, but he refused to listen, I’m afraid.”
“That’s quite alright, Shannon. Could you let him know I’ll be right there and have him wait in my office?”
Shannon’s head bobbed up and down quickly as she pushed a strand of hair behind her ear and rocked back and forth on her heels.
“Yes, of course.”
The Doc beamed a smile in her direction as he began to focus on the paperwork on his clipboard once again.
“Thank you, Shannon.”
I watched as Shannon’s face lit up at his smile, then fell as he dismissed her. Huffing a sigh that disturbed the countless tendrils hanging about her heart-shaped face, she shot from the room just as quickly as she’d appeared.
“Who was that?”
The Doc made a distracted sound and flipped through a couple more pages.
“Who was the Shannon woman that was just in here?”
“Hmm? Oh, Shannon. She’s my secretary, research assistant, etc.”
“Romantic companion, maybe?”
It took a few moments for my question to sink in and when it did, the Doc glanced up at me in surprise, his glasses sliding down his nose.
“Heavens no! No, Shannon is nothing more than a colleague, certainly nothing romantically inclined. No, no, just a colleague.”
He pushed his glasses back up his nose and went back to his scribbling.
“What? Why not? Well, because…because…well, just because. She’s just not.”
“Is there some rule about dating co-workers?”
His scribbling came to a halt as his brow furrowed.
“Not that I’m aware of, no.”
“Then why not? She obviously likes you. Do you like her? She’s rather pretty. Seems nice, too, although she’s a little hyper from what I could tell. I don’t imagine she ever sits still for very long, eh? ”
The Doc gave me a puzzled look that turned thoughtful after a few seconds. I could almost hear the gears grinding in his head. He really hadn’t noticed her at all. Talk about oblivious scientist.
“No, I don’t believe she does. She’s always up and running about doing something. It’s one of the reasons I hired her. I knew she’d be good at getting things done—wait. What do you mean she likes me? That’s ridiculous. How do you know that? You don’t even know her.”
I grinned at him.
“I don’t have to know her to know that she’s go the hots for you. All I had to do was see the way she stared at you like you were some great feast and she was famished, see the way she lit up when you smiled at her. And I did. You would have, too, if you weren’t so obsessed with that clipboard. You should ask her out.”
The Doc gazed at me for a second longer, then his eyes crinkled as he laughed. Shaking his head, he checked my pulse again.
“Maybe I will but if I weren’t so ‘obsessed’ with this clipboard, you’d be in a world of trouble, young lady.”
“Who you callin’ young?! It’s not as if you’re twenty years older than me or something. You barely look more than twenty-five. How old are you anyway?”
“Much older than I look, that’s for sure. I’m not human remember? My species has different aging rules, more lenient ones.”
“Ah, right. I keep forgetting. You seem pretty human though. You’re not green and your eyes aren’t all huge—”
I cut off as I remembered the way his eyes had reacted in the light. Since then, they’d been a normal unspectacular hazel. If I didn’t know ay better, I’d have thought I imagined that first day.
“Do you remember when I first woke up?”
“Of course. One of the best days of my professional life so far. Why do you ask?”
His grin was contagious and I affectionately swiped at his shoulder. I was coming to rather like the Doc and all his witty remarks.
“Of course it was. I ask because, well, I was wondering about something. When the light hit your eyes, they reacted oddly, like a cats. I was wondering if, no. I was wondering why—how exactly…”
“Don’t strain yourself, dear. I understand. You want to know the whys and the hows and all that. All very natural curiosities. I belong to a species simply called, The Familiars. Familiars are half man and half animal. There are different groups of Familiars called Orders. I’m of the Feline Order, meaning that I’m half man and half feline, black Leopard, to be exact. Some share forms with tigers, lions, or even simple house cats. Everyone is different. There are countless different Orders, too; the Water Order, the Air Order, the Canine Order, the Reptile Order. No one got too creative while creating them all, I’ll tell you that. There’s more technical and scientific terms, but I’d hate to bore you.”
“So that’s why your hair is so odd and your eyes shine like a cats? Because you actually are part cat?”
“Hmm. We are part whatever animal Order we belong to, but because we’re both man and animal, we make up an entire different species and have a few of our own characteristics. Where a wild male leopard would find it difficult to be around other males of its kind, it’s rather easy for me because the man in me tempers the balance. Do you understand?”
I watched my hands twist my bed covers for a moment, then looked at him from under my lashes.
“Can I see?”
“I’m not sure if that would be a good idea. We have to at least attempt to keep you mentally stable, no matter how impossible it seems. I doubt watching a man shift into a leopard not two feet from you is going to help achieve that.”
I listened to my heartbeat while I tried to envision exactly that. It was hard to imagine, but I thought I could handle it. If not, I was due for another fainting spell anyway.
“I’ll be fine, promise. Just don’t attack me once you go all catty.”
Doc gazed at me for such a long time, I thought he was going to refuse, but then he heaved a sigh and muttered something to himself as he stood and shrugged out of his lab coat. As he began to kick off his shoes, he glanced at me speculatively.
“I can’t have any clothes on when I shift or else they just end up in shreds. How many naked men have you seen?”
I had a slight panic attack when I thought about seeing the Doc nude but had couldn’t open my mouth to tell him I had changed my mind. Truth was, even though I was pretty sure I had never seen a naked man, at least not one standing two feet in front of me, my curiosity was eating a hole through me at seeing him go from man to leopard.
Naked man…cat man…naked man…cat man…
“Ha! Really, Doc. How young do you think I am? I’m not some innocent Catholic schoolgirl. I’ve seen plenty of men. Bring on the nudeness…I mean that from a completely detached and scientifically curious standpoint, of course.”
While the Doc answered my good natured grin, I could see he was weighing his options. After a few moments, he walked over to a panel on the wall next to the door and pressed a couple buttons. A robotic voice answered and Doc requested a pair of pants be brought down from his suite. After a slight pause, the voice confirmed that they would be arriving momentarily. A minute later, Shannon tossed them through the doorway as she skidded down the hallway.
Sitting them on the chair, Doc continued to strip until he was wearing nothing but his slacks. I hadn’t noticed how fit he was before, probably because he insisted on wearing that shapeless lab coat constantly. His chest was heavily muscled and he had more abs than I thought a man could have. His shoulders were broad and powerful while his back was nothing but roped steel. Funny how I never noticed the way he walked. He had the grace and ease of a big cat, a leisurely stalk and he never made a sound. I made a mental note to torch the coat at the next opportune moment.
After removing his glasses and sitting them on the desk, he walked over to me and again checked my pulse. I doubted it was necessary since I could clearly hear it’s erratic thumping.
“Plenty of men, huh? Somehow I doubt that, dear, I doubt that very much. Are you sure about this? We can always do this when you’re more aware, you know.”
“Aware of what? How crazy this world got in just two years? How the saying ‘it’s okay, you’re human’ no longer applies to the general population? No, I think I’m very aware. I’ll be fine, promise.”
The Doc laughed as he took a casual stance facing me a couple feet away from my bed.
“That’s the second time you’ve said that. I think you have a habit of repeating yourself when nervous, so as to convince yourself of whatever it is you’re saying you are. There’s no need to be nervous. I won’t eat you and if you get uncomfortable, just say the word and I’m back on two legs. Okay?”
I took a deep breath as I used that knowledge to calm myself.
My eyes were glued to Doc as he closed his eyes and began the change. It happened so fast, I barely had time to catalog it all. First, pitch black fur raced across his skin and his nails lengthened into claws. I heard the pops as his body rearranged itself and then a soft translucent glow enveloped him as he fell towards the ground on all fours, then there was a black leopard in front of me. It’s eyes opened and I saw Doc’s kind gaze fade away as the leopards cunning intelligence took its place. It stood there for a few moments and then I realized it was listening to my heartbeat which had stuttered a few times during the change, but had now taken off like a rocket. I belatedly wondered if Doc could still remember his deal with me about not having me for dinner in leopard form. Maybe he forgot about tiny, inconsequential things like promises to good smelling humans. Wait, no. Seraph. I was a Seraph now. Maybe, hopefully that meant I didn’t smell or taste as good.
The leopard started to stalk towards me and with each silent pad of its paws, common sense got harder and harder to hold onto.
It’s still Doc. He’s just had a little itty bitty makeover. No big deal. Just Doc the leopard. It’s not like it’s an actual leopard, or anything. Not wild, just Doc. A normal person inside an extraordinary shell. Everything is gonna be fine. He won’t eat me, and I’ll be just fine. A-okay. That’s me. But what if he does eat me? Then what? He could just eat all of me, he’s big enough. They would never find the body. And maybe they wouldn’t even care. Maybe I was brought here for this exact reason: dinner. There should be an apple in my mouth. I wouldn’t even be able to scream. Leopards suffocate. They bite the neck and suffocate you to death. What a crappy way to die. Death by clean freak cat. Lovely.
I must have zoned out during my rant, because suddenly I was face to face with the leopard, literally. It was sitting casually next to my bed, watching me with an odd sort of patient humor while I mumbled incoherently. Then it rubbed its head against my hand and I was lost. I forgot about worrying if it was hungry and plunged my hands into its thick fur. It was irresistibly soft, ultimately luxurious. My fingers traced the almost invisible rosettes and glided over the rippling muscles. I flinched when I heard what sounded like a growl, then realized it was a purr. Doc nuzzled my hand then butted his head against my leg. Once I had scooted over, he leapt gracefully up onto the bed and lay down, nearly taking up all of it. I laughed as he rolled, almost pushing me off, and socked him playfully.
I spent the rest of the afternoon simply laying there, stroking his fur while he purred contentedly and marveled at this wondrous phenomenon. Never in a million years would I have thought this possible, and yet it was.
Sunshine Heights-Chapter 3
Turns out, Mr. High and Mighty didn't agree with Doc's actions. After storming in with Shannon close on his heels, he proceeded to yell at Doc while he lay calmly next to me, slightly shaking with what I suspect was laughter. Shannon went so far as to bravely step between Gabriel and the Doc as if to shield him from the verbal assault. Once he had run out of steam, Doc had reassuringly bumped his head against my shoulder then jumped down and unhurriedly made his way around Gabriel and out the door. Shannon gave me a sympathetic smile as she followed the Doc out and the He-Man shot me an annoyed glance before he stalked away. Shirley came in not long after and said I was due a tour, something I hadn't actually thought about yet.
It felt good walking around and seeing everything. The Centre was much larger than I had expected, almost like a mini city under a roof, a roof that was made of thick glass and stainless steel. The natural sunshine felt good on my skin and the clouds that drifted by kept me distracted. I hardly heard a word Shirley said as she pointed down different corridors and told me the names of the countless people that flitted by, all with kind, but somehow odd smiles. It wasn't until we ran into a little boy that I realized what made the smiles so odd.
Just as we turned a corned, a boy with shaggy brown hair collided into me. As I steadied him with my hands on his shoulders, I guessed he was about seven years old. He glanced up and his mouth opened to say a quick sorry as he prepared to take flight again, but instead, it just hung open as he froze, his eyes wide and awe-filled.
"You're the angel, aren't you?! Wow! Wait till I tell Zac I saw you! He's gonna flip! He said he'd find you first but I told him about me being luckier but he doesn't believe me. He never believes me. Thinks just cause he's older he's so cool. But I found you first! I told him I was lucky! HA! You have wings, right? Can I see 'em? Man, that would really get him! I bet they're huge! I've seen drawings of them. They're big and white and pretty and…"
He trailed off as his hands impatiently tried to turn me around to get a look, but Shirley got him by his ear first. The boy yelped as he tried to pull away.
"Joseph Marcus Young! You know better than that! Where are those manners I taught you?"
"Oops, sorry. Hi, I'm Joseph."
I smiled down at him as he thrust his hand toward me.
"Hello Joseph. I'm Aiden. Nice to meet you."
He grinned and I felt his hand twitch as if he meant to finish turning me around, but Shirley's mumbling kept him at bay.
"…Kid's too hyper for his own good. Where in the world is that mother of yours?"
"We were, uh, playing hide-n-seek. I'm supposed to be, um, hiding."
"Uh huh. Hiding means finding a nice quiet spot and staying still. Are you even capable of that? Get on now. If I see you before dinner, you'll be spending the night in the freezer."
Joseph spared me a quick laughing glance before taking off down the hall, no doubt to find poor Zac and gloat. I looked at Shirley to see her smiling after him.
"That boy is quite the mischief, but he means well. Everyone has been looking forward to meeting you but the kids are thrilled. Your kind has been the basis for the most popular bedtime stories. It's not everyday a fairy-tale comes true."
I laughed as I thought about being the product of a fairy-tale.
"It's hard to think of myself as the object of fairy-tale. Seems like just yesterday that I was a normal, unspectacular human. Now I'm suppose to believe I've got all these gifts, wings and am some heavenly creature. It's all very hard to take in."
Shirley gazed at me for a few moments, then smiled as she beckoned me to follow her. We passed through a pair of glass doors and suddenly I was surrounded by color. Plants of all different shapes and sizes sprouted from every direction and the aroma of flowers was impossible to ignore as their colors dotted among the green like random splatters of paint. Shirley led me to a quaint bench beneath a tree that seemingly sprouted from the concrete and sat, patting the place next to her. As I took my place, she sighed and her eyes were lost to the past.
"When I was a little girl, my mother used to take me on walks through gardens just like this one. She'd tell me stories of angels and healers, of days when the world was at ease and peace was the way of things. Everyday, we went on our walks. No matter if it rained or shined, we walked. To this day, the smell of wild flowers reminds me of her, of how she was the most kind and serene person I ever knew. One day on one of our walks, there was a worried look in her eyes. When I asked what was wrong, she became oddly calm and sat me down. She told me the world wasn't always what it seemed and that one day, I would have to come to terms with that. On that day, instead of telling me pretty stories, she told me ugly truths. She told me of how there were creatures that were different from the angels, evil creatures. She told me that if I wasn't careful, if I wasn't always cautious, they would hurt me and that couldn't be allowed because I was important to our kind. At that time, I still believed I was human. I thought all the stories she told me of angels and shifters were just that; stories. She then told me I would bear a son that would help our kind progress, that he would help guide us into the light with a warrior of life and a being of grace.
"My mother always had a way of seeing things, things that couldn't be explained. She just 'knew' and no one had ever doubted her. After telling me these things, she smiled brightly and said that she wanted to show me something and I shouldn't be afraid. She stood up and backed away from me a few feet while I sat watching her, confused but curious. I was always so curious and Mother often referred to me as her curious kitty. That day, I finally learned why. One second my mother was standing serenely before me, her arms draped delicately at her sides, then she began to glow and suddenly I was staring anxiously at a dainty but powerfully built white tiger. I had an afternoon similar to the one you and my son shared earlier. I was beyond shocked, but not scared, never scared. I knew without a doubt that it was still my mother. On our next walk, when I asked her why I couldn't be a tiger too, she told me that I was special, just like her, but that it simply wasn't time yet. She advised me that when the time did come, I should not fear it but embrace it. She explained to me how the change felt and how it happened. It was easier to hear about it than to go through it, of course.
"I didn't go through the change until many years later, long after my mother had been killed. I was twenty-four, fresh out of college. I was on a date with a kind man when I suddenly felt very unwell. I begged to go home, denying his help and concern. I knew what was happening. It swept through me like a tidal wave, and I remembered my mother's words of advice. I tried very hard not to fight it, but when your body is cracking and pain the which of likes you could have never imagined is erupting in every cell, it's instinctive. After an anguished hour, I was left lying on my kitchen floor, panting and terrified. I didn't feel right anymore. I sent my mind in search of my hands so I could get up, but they were distorted. Instead I found massive white paws with black stripes. It took me awhile to find the strength to stand, and when I finally did, it was so…wondrous. Everything was so different. I hardly felt like myself anymore. Staring in the mirror, it was impossible to refute what was staring back at me, but at the same time, I couldn't believe it. I felt much like you did when Bradley told you the truth. Shaken, numb, scared, disbelieving. But at the same time, I felt oddly at ease. It took months to fully understand the scope of things, months to truly believe I wasn't simply hallucinating. It had been so long ago that I'd seen my mother change that it felt like just another story. It wasn't until a couple years later that I met my dear Henry and found that there was a whole other world out there, that I wasn't alone. Of course, I had to go through my whole accepting stages again, but it was well worth the effort, I think."
Her lips formed a small smile then tightened with concern as she saw the tears silently trailing down my cheeks.
"Dear, what in the world is a matter? No sense getting all worked up over my silly past. The past is the past and everything worked out the way it was suppose to."
I sniffed as I tried to smile and failed horribly.
"I know. It's just that I am scared. What if I can't accept it? What if I go crazy and have a mental breakdown and the Doc has to have Gabriel toss me in a padded room or has to put me down? What if I'm not the saving grace everyone thinks I am? What if I'm just a human with freaky eyes? What if I'm dreaming all this while I'm in some coma at a normal hospital with normal people worried about me waking up? What if the reason I can't remember anything is because I'm dreaming? You never remember anything while you're dreaming. I hate that, by the way. It's always annoyed me. But really? What about all those what-ifs, huh? They're all very likely and logical ones, I think."
Shirley's eyes stayed wide as she took in my breathless words, and then doubled over with laughter. Holding her sides, she glanced up at me apologetically.
"Humph. This is no laughing matter. I'm serious, Shirley."
"I know, that's what makes it so funny, dear." She gasped as a new round of mirth stole her breath. I simply sat there stiffly while glaring at her down my nose, mumbling about senile old women. She slowly straightened and wiped the tears from her eyes.
"Oh my. I haven't laughed like that in a good ole time. Now, dear. You're right. Those are very likely and logical what-ifs, but the simple truth is, none of them will ever apply to you. Firstly, even if Bradley did order you to a padded room, which he wouldn't, Gabriel would refuse to let it happen and besides, you could quite easily escape it and my son would never even consider putting you down. Secondly, there have been numerous tests to make sure that Bradley's right about your heritage and you are certainly awake. I can promise you that, with the help of time and guidance, you will come to terms with what is happening. The first way to set about doing that is to practice. You told Bradley about accidentally learning of your infrared vision, but I'd rather not test it out here where it's so bright. It would most certainly bring on a painful headache. But you are in need of some exercise, so how about we take a more scenic route to the cafeteria? I'm quite famished, but I think you'll like the views."
I smiled gratefully as I followed her further into the green paradise.
There were so many trees. They created a wall of green as the car sped down the road toward the TDF where I was being moved. I'd become so used to chasing Joey and Zac around the Centre. Joey had been thrilled when I gave him the nickname. I ate lunch in the cafeteria with everyone every afternoon and I took long walks with Shirley every evening. I was a little nervous about starting all over again. The Doc assured me I could visit the Centre at any time, but I was still slightly uncomfortable and kept quiet for most of the ride.
It wasn't until we were just a few minutes away that I finally remembered to ask Doc the questions I had been mulling over. I had been so busy trying to forget all the images I had seen that rainy afternoon in Doc's suite, that I hadn't had time to ask Doc who, or the more popular question these days, what Belle was. I still wasn't exactly sure why I was going to this training facility either.
Doc, who was sitting in the passenger seat while Gabriel drove, turned in his seat so he could see me.
"I was wondering if you could tell me more about that Belle O'trusse lady? Is it normal for people to act so…odd around her?"
"Do you mean is it normal for people to have flashes around her?"
"Um, yeah. I haven't had any since then so I thought maybe it had more to do with her than me."
"Well, you thought right, although I'm sure you get plenty of flashes on your own, just more subtle. Belle is a very old friend of mine, and I mean that in more ways than one. Belle is currently just over four hundred years old and I've known her for about two hundred of them. It is rather normal for people to experience odd things around her, but I'm sure that's the case with all witches. The reason you had the flashes is because Belle is a witch of the First Chapter."
"Wait, she's a witch? And what do you mean 'chapters'? Aren't witches just…witches?"
"I suppose that's the ways humans would tell it, but no. There are three chapters total. The First Chapter is the chapter of Oracles. These witches can see aspects of the past, present, and future. The Second Chapter is the chapter of Creators with witches who specialize in spell casting and chanting. Then finally, the Third Chapter is the chapter of Protectors. The Protectors are the witches who are the makers of charms and gifted weapons. Usually, you'll find they keep company with a Familiar, who aids in their journeys. Once, long before my days as a doctor, I walked beside one. They're the most fascinating women I have ever come across. So easy to fall in love with, but impossible to tame. I fell for one, a beautiful woman named Pandora. With a name like that, you'd think I would have been wary. I stayed with her as long as I could, but in the end, being just her companionable pet wasn't enough.
"But that was years ago. Belle will be joining us in a few days. She'd like to talk with you about what you saw and trust me, no matter how badly you'd wish to forget it, she can help. She's a very wise woman. Now, something currently more important is you meeting the rest of the Guardians. I wanted to put off introductions until after we had gotten you settled in, but they were adamant they meet you as soon as possible, which is probably why they showed up before schedule. Now, the Guardians are…My dear, what in the world is wrong?!"
I stared at Doc as I took stock of my face. My mouth was slightly open and my eyes felt a bit glazed. I felt too cold and vaguely nauseous. I assumed what the Doc was seeing as he gazed at me earnestly was an expression of surprised horror. The surprise was due to the fact that I knew exactly what the Guardians were; the horror was at the prospect of being anywhere near them.
I forced myself to unfreeze and threw myself at Gabriel, my hands pulling at his shoulder and arm.
"Turn around! We have to go back to the Centre! I don't want to meet them; I never want to meet them. Gabriel, stop the car dammit!"
Gabriel did as he was told and before the car pulled to a complete stop, I threw my door open and flew out, promptly screeching to a dead halt. There, not ten feet from me, was a very tall, very big, very scary lion. We stared at each other for a few immeasurable moments; him with lazy appreciation, me with cold terror. His amber eyes seemed to burn right through me. Suddenly, one giant paw moved forward, ending my frozen trance. I ignored the most important rule when faced with deadly predators, and turned to run, stumbling into Gabriel's waiting arms. He turned me so that he was between me and the large cat, petting my hair as I latched onto him for dear life. I could feel my bones shaking, hear my heart racing and my teeth chattering. I pressed my face more securely against his chest and his arms reflexively tightened around me. I had just never really expected to be anywhere near a real lion and he was just so…huge. I heard an odd cough-like grunt and looked up to see Gabriel glaring at the lion over his shoulder.
"Stupid fucking cat. Did you even bother to stop and think how she would react? And you Bec; you should have known better than to let him do it."
"Tsk, really Gabriel. Watch your language. It's not right to be talkin' like that around ladies. You should know better."
I felt a growl rumble up Gabriel's chest as she sarcastically threw his words back in his face and leaned around him to shoot an annoyed glance at the tiny woman, carefully making sure my gaze stayed far away from the large cat.
"Maybe you should annoy someone closer to your own size so that untimely death isn't one of the consequences. Besides, I curse. Are you calling me a man? Because that would be funny considering a tree has more curves than you."
She raised a brow as she appraised me, then laughed.
"Doc, you think you could get around to introducing us before sundown? I think I'm gonna enjoy getting to know this lady."
The Doc stepped forward, tossing the bags he was holding to the ground.
"Well, of course. But first, Conner, go change. You're not much use if you can't even say a proper hello."
Conner the Lion gave me what I swore had to have been a sheepish grin and languidly stalked off around the building.
"Come now, Aiden. Time to meet everyone."
Just as I was untangling myself from Gabriel, I remembered why I had first jumped from the car. I shook my head quickly and once again buried myself in Gabriel's arms. As the Doc started to walk towards me, I dug my nails into Gabriel's chest, causing him to flinch and hold up a hand. The Doc paused and Gabriel turned his back on everyone, bending down to talk in my ear. The tickle of his breath sent shivers down my spine and caused warmth to leak into my cold hands.
"There's nothing to be afraid of, you know. None of these people mean you any harm. Everyone has been very excited about meeting you and I can confidently say, that other than Conner, these guys are pretty nice. Okay?"
I pondered his tone when he mentioned Conner. I guessed there probably wasn't a lot of love lost between the two of them. I glanced up to see him patiently waiting for me to concede, but I couldn't find the courage to leave his arms. I shook my head again.
"What is it that you're afraid of?"
"Them." I whispered. He paused for a small second.
"Why? You know almost nothing about them."
"Oh, no. That's where you're wrong. I know plenty, which is exactly why I'm not going anywhere near them."
"What is it that you think you know?"
"I don't think I know, I know I know. Joey and Zac told me everything."
"Wait, Joey and Zac? You mean the two little boys who run around the Centre causing mayhem?"
"Hey, they don't cause that much trouble. Besides, they're just kids. They have to have amuse themselves somehow."
Gabriel laughed and shook his head.
"I know, that's why I'm confused as to why you'd believe them and any stories they concocted up about the Guardians. Those boys are always trying to come up with new scenarios to act out. They shouldn't be taken seriously."
I thought about that for a minute. It did seem sort of silly to believe a couple of kids who spent most of their time having food fights and chasing poor orderlies through the hallways with water guns, but no one else would tell me anything. Shirley went mum every time I even thought about mentioning the Guardians, and everyone else always claimed to be busy. A girl gets desperate.
"Okay, well if they didn't have the story straight, you tell me. What are the Guardians and what do they do?"
Gabriel opened his mouth then shut it, looking uncomfortable. His eyes shifted away from mine and I felt his muscles tense in apprehension. My eyes narrowed as I suspected he was about to give me some half-assed answer.
"Just spit it out, Sparky. Shouldn't be too hard to explain."
"In simple terms, the Guardians are the immortal warriors. There's a high council that is charged with keeping order among our kind as a whole called the Immortal Monarchy. There's a society within the Monarchy called the Aureus Orbis that the Eternal Guardians belong to and are relied upon to carry out the orders when someone gets out of line. So we're the good guys, really."
I liked that name; Aureus Orbis. It almost floated off the tongue and I recognized the sound. It was Latin for the Golden Circle. I wasn't going to even begin to try to understand how I knew that.
"That's a harsher word than I'd use, but yeah, I guess."
I mulled that over as I peered at the group around Gabriel's arm. There was the short, pixie-like brunette who Gabriel had called Bec earlier; a man with skin the color of obsidian; a big, burly older man with salt and peppered hair; the Conner man had returned, with his powerfully built body and shaggy blonde curls; and lastly, a sinfully beautiful woman who was very tall and had long, waving red hair. I looked them over as I tried to picture them killing a variety of beastly creatures. I didn't doubt the men, but the two women had me stumped. How in the world could the pixie and siren hurt anything? I saw the petite brunette flash a look at me, almost like she had heard what I was thinking before ducking back behind Gabriel.
"What does 'huh' mean?"
"Well…you said 'we' not 'them'."
Gabriel's eyes widened slightly and I could almost hear him berating himself. He opened his mouth and I immediately laid a finger against his lips. But before I could say anything, their texture distracted me. I must have expected them to be rather rough because I was abnormally surprised to find them velvety soft. His breath warmed my fingertip and I took an unsteady breath as I attempted to gather my scattered thoughts.
"Before you decide to lie to me, I think it fair to warn you that I have a rather nifty talent of knowing when I'm not being told the whole truth. So rethink what you were about to say before you answer."
"I wasn't going to lie. I just don't want you having another fainting spell. They can't be good for you."
"Why would I faint again? You'd have to say something more insane than the things I already know, which would prove considerably difficult."
"Not as difficult as you think. See, there's six Guardians altogether."
He just kept looking at me like that explained everything.
"I must have missed the punch line because I don't get it."
"There's only five that you know of."
I glanced around him again to do a quick recount, puzzled.
"Um, no. There's five of them and one of you; that makes six."
Gabriel turned to look behind him, then shook his head.
"Kent doesn't count. His father was a Guardian, but he's not. He's more like a supervisor."
"Well, then who's the other Guardian? Don't tell me Doc…"
I looked at the Doc, trying to wrap my mind around him being some mercenary but it was impossible. He just didn't seem the type.
"No, Doc isn't a Guardian."
"So the other one isn't here?"
"No. The sixth is here."
The slow and purposeful way he said it made me look up at him. He was staring at me like I was missing something vital. I wracked my brain and came up blank. He wasn't making any sense. I huffed out a frustrated breath. I hated guessing games. They took patience, which was a certain virtue I was lucky enough to own.
"If neither Doc nor the Kent guy is a Guardian, then I don't understand. Who's the other Guard—"
I stopped as I had an abrupt thought. Gabriel must have noticed my moment of clarity because he gave me a small reluctant smile, as if he were waiting for something.
I was the sixth Guardian. Cue the fainting spell.
"Well, you sure know how to woo the ladies, Gabe."
"Shut your trap, Conner. Gabe doesn't need your brand of harassment right now."
"Awe, come on, Bec. This is the perfect opportunity. Nothing like kicking a man when he's down."
I could hear Conner chuckle and Bec sigh. I was lying propped up against something hard and warm that kept moving. I wanted to just lay there, listening to what I assumed was Gabriel's heartbeat, but I desperately needed to get away for awhile so I could think without being watched. I felt Gabriel's hand rubbing up and down my arm, creating warmth. It felt nice, just relaxing into him. I wanted to stay there forever, which is what prompted me into bolting upright. As I stood, Gabriel reached for my arm, but I jumped away from him. I saw the confused hurt in his eyes he failed to hide before guilt forced me to look away.
"I'm sorry, I just…I need to be alone for awhile, so I can think."
Gabriel opened his mouth, surely about to deny me even that, if only in the name of safety, but Doc spoke first.
"Of course, Aiden. If you go out that door there, you'll see a path just beyond the parking lot. It'll take you to a secluded meadow that I'm sure you'll love."
Gabriel glared at the Doc, then stalked away.
"Thank you, Doc. I'll try not to be too long."
"Don't worry, dear. Take as much time as you need."
I could feel everyone's gaze burning into my back as I walked away, making the sharp slap of the door closing and the breeze of fresh air a welcome relief. I wasn't at all sure of exactly what I had wanted to think about. I suppose it was just everything. Time had been going by so quickly since I had woken up, I hadn't really soaked up everything. I took a moment to look around the meadow, smiling at its beauty. Doc had been right. I loved it.
Green was the backdrop for the millions of bright colors that painted the ground with flowers. It almost looked as if a crazed painter had went bonkers, slashing color left and right. The warm sunshine made everything glow and the sound of songbirds completed the picture. I walked towards the small pool of water, half hidden under the shade of an ancient oak. I sat against its trunk while I watched the reflection of clouds float across the water. It was like a lullaby, slowly lulling me into this calm sea of sunshine. I thought about that first day, how terrified of the Doc I had been, thinking he was some deranged monster. Now, he was a beloved mentor. Shirley had become my friend and mother figure, teaching me more and more of the kind I was coming closer to recognizing as my own.
Then there was Gabriel.
I listened to my body as I thought of him. My heartbeat tapped out a faster rhythm, my skin grew hot and my breath suddenly turned shallow. But I was completely calm, almost as if I was wrapped within a cocoon. It was hard to distinguish what exactly it was that I saw him as. A protector? Yes. A sinfully gorgeous man? Indeed. A very confusing, ever-frustrating he-man who confused me on more levels than I previously thought possible? Definitely.
At times, it was as if my very soul recognized him, making me turn to him whenever I felt threatened or confused. I was instinctively comfortable around him, like I had know him all my life, plus some. At the same time, I didn't even know him. He always stared at me, without even a hint of embarrassment when I caught him. He hardly ever talked and never stopped to ask if I might like to walk instead of being carried everywhere. Then again, he usually only carried me after I fainted, which I did do quite often.
I was just so…confused.
Did I really believe all the things they had told me? Was I really awake or simply imagining this all? They say the brain is an amazing organ that can do things we can't even comprehend. It was very likely that this could all be a coma-induced dream. Or nightmare. Although I had seen the Doc turn, had experienced my abnormal sight and strength, I still couldn't wrap my mind around it. I felt very much like I imagined an insane person who doesn't yet know they're insane would. Confused, anxious, cautious, scared, worried. What was next? Why was I here at this TDF place? Why was I so important to these strangers? Was I really some heaven-sent creature that was meant to save the world?
I'm human for christ's sake! Humans just don't do things like that, they don't become something like that. It just is not possible.
Or is it?
I felt like I was running around in a circle, asking myself the same questions, over and over and over again, with no new answers. I was so frustrated and angry, tears began to well up and spill onto my cheeks in a relentless flow. I gave in to the sobs that were yearning for release. I cried for myself, for the family I had once had, for all the questions that went unanswered. I cried in anger and self-pity, in heartbreak and fear. It felt like my entire world had collapsed and the worst part was, I didn't even know what that world entailed. I was crying about things I didn't know about, things I couldn't remember or things I couldn't change. My emotions were just so volatile. One second I was perfectly calm, the next insanely furious or anguished. And there was nothing I could do about it other than just try to ride out the intense waves as they came. I wondered if this was how I would be forever, always having breakdowns and fainting spells.
It seemed like a very bleak future.
"You know, it's not the most attractive thing to sit all alone and pity oneself so thoroughly."
My head snapped up at the unfamiliar voice and I found myself staring at a rather ordinary woman in a pair of slacks much like my own and a cherry red t-shirt. She had long white hair and twinkling blue eyes that seemed very old and wise. She was one of those women who make it impossible to guess their age. She could have been anywhere from thirty to sixty years old.
"Who are you?"
The lady smiled as she sat across from me, plucking up a blade of grass and twirling it around between her fingers.
"Nifty little question, that. Ask one question yet receive two answers. My name is Helen and I'm what you would call a guide of sorts. I'm here to help you."
I narrowed my eyes at her, pondering how many people intended on helping me.
"Who said I needed any help?"
"Dear, it's pitifully obvious you are in dire need of some guidance, and although I'm sure the doctor and his group of misfits are capable of teaching you, I think you'd profit even more by listening to me. See, they're there to help you physically. Me, well. I'm here to make sure you don't give yourself a brain aneurysm. Your thoughts have been rather…chaotic. I didn't want to sit idly by while you had a mental break down. You should thank me."
"Well, I'm not going to. I was perfectly fine before you came along and I'm sick of everyone feeling as if they have to help me. I'd be fine on my own, dammit!"
Helen silently watched me as I quickly grappled for control over my sudden rage.
"If that's what you call fine, you're more unbalanced then we had thought."
"Who the hell is 'we'?"
"'We' are the group of Elders that look after your kind. You've gone through more than any other Seraph has ever endured, which puts you in a rather spectacular position. Of course, it's rough for everyone, but you. You had to deal with the loss of family, loves, memory. Lady Fate has not been kind to you, but she rarely is to the good ones. My job is to help you get through this while keeping you on the right path. The Doc will teach you everything you need to know, so for now, be content to just learn. We'll be in contact with you when we deem fit. Take care."
And then just as quickly as she had appeared, she was gone, simply vanishing before my eyes. I had two options; stay and continue to add a new round of questions to the already massive group or head back to the facility and face whatever was next.
I chose the latter.
*I know this last part of CH. 3 doesn't fit just right, but I swear it will at some point. =)*
Currently listening to:
By David Gray