Read Reluctant Guardian Online

Authors: Melissa Cunningham

Reluctant Guardian (10 page)



~A Second Visit with Death~



A terrifying screech echoes from upstairs, and the look of horror on Tyler's face says it all.

“Stay here!” I command before shooting through the ceiling to my mother's bedroom.

Her room, still dark, is shrouded in shadow. She kicks off the blankets and lies there panting, sweat beading on her forehead.

“Mom! What's wrong?” For a moment, I totally forget she can't hear me. When she doesn't respond I place my hand on her forehead, but I can't tell if she has a fever or not since I don't feel hot or cold the same way as before. A second passes before she slips her feet off the bed and sits up. Leaning forward on her arms, she rests, swaying from side to side, and then she stumbles to the bedroom door, tripping on a quilt that lies tangled at the foot of the bed. Curse words tumble from her mouth. Words I've never heard her use before. Her eyes are glazed and wild.

This is not my mother.

She was always so loving, so happy, so fun. But this madwoman is something else. She yanks open the door and ambles to the stairs, clinging to the rail as she takes one step at a time, her movements jerky and slow.

“Tyler!” she hollers. “Get your butt up here!” She continues her laborious descent, looking like she'll fall any minute. Not knowing what to do, I rush ahead to find my brother, hoping to protect him from whatever storm is coming.

He's alone in the living room, his face as white as winter frost, his hands twitching at his side. He doesn't even try to hide. I don't think he can move; he looks so scared.

Without a moment's hesitation, I fly from the living room and down the stairs to the basement in search of Derek. He's still on his bed, tapping his fingers to whatever music blares in his ears. I scream for him, shout, and even try to smack his face, but nothing works.

My whole soul cries out for him to hear me until I kneel on the floor at his side, sobbing invisible tears. At that moment he turns, a frown appearing on his already unhappy-looking face. Sitting up, he tears the plugs from his ears.

He leaps for the door, taking the stairs three at a time with his long, athletic legs. I rush behind him, relief soaring through me. Now that he's up and running I have no fear... until I reach the living room.

My mother has Tyler by the hair, screeching at him for not having finished loading the dishwasher. I turn in confusion, noticing the spotless kitchen. Derek hurdles over the couch and grabs Tyler away from our mother. Tears streak down Ty's face and a red hand print covers his cheek.

“What are you doing?” Derek screams. “Look what you've done!” He gestures to Ty's face, his own stricken with disbelief. “What kind of mother are you?”

Everyone stands silently staring at one another, and the only sound in the room is their heavy breathing.

Then, in a quiet, controlled tone, Derek says, “I'll tell you what kind. The terrible kind. And I hate you. We're leaving.” Derek storms back to his room, towing Tyler behind him.

My mother sinks to the couch in defeat, and covers her face, but she doesn't cry. Instead, she pulls her legs up beneath her and lies down on a throw pillow, staring straight ahead.

After a few moments, Derek returns to the living room with a duffel bag slung over his shoulder, an empty one in his other hand. He and Tyler mount the stairs, not even looking our mom's way. After ten minutes they return, the second duffel bag full. Without a backward glance, they leave the house, the front door slamming behind them.

I can't believe what I've just witnessed. Nothing like this has ever happened in our home before. Yeah, Derek and mom would argue sometimes, but leaving the house? Running away? Mom slapping Tyler? I don't get it.

After a moment my mom stumbles up the stairs, her feet tangling in her nightgown. She trips and slides down the stairs. After regaining her balance, she hobbles up to her room and goes straight to her bathroom. She opens the vanity and pulls out a tan pill bottle. She shakes a couple of pills into her palm, staring at the white circles. She pours out a few more, then a few more.

“What are you doing?” I say, coming around to stand before her.

She doesn't answer.

“Mom. What are you doing?”

Without water, she pops more than fifteen pills into her mouth. I can only stare, stunned. She goes back to bed and falls on top of the blankets. After ten minutes or so, her eyes glaze over—even more than before—and her breathing slows, her chest barely rising with each inhalation.

“Mom!” I shout. “You can't do this! Derek and Tyler need you!” It doesn't matter what I say, though, because she can't hear me. I fall to my knees and plead to the God I still have yet to meet, to help my mother.

Around me, a light grows from a pinpoint, moving closer. Gram floats beside me bathed in radiant brilliance. She smiles and takes my hand. “Hello, Darling.”

“Gram! Something's wrong with Mom! I think she's dying!”

“Yes, dear, she is,” she says with a frown.

Why doesn't Gram do something? This is her daughter! She just stands there, watching my mother with no reaction whatsoever.

“But... but she can't die yet!”

“It's a terrible thing to witness, isn't it?” she says, gazing into my eyes. “I felt the same way when I watched you die in your car. I was there, you know.”

I didn't know. It's all so jumbled in my mind now, but I don't want to see my mother after she realizes what a terrible thing she's done.

I can't let this happen.

When the loud bang of a door slamming rings through the house, I jump up. Someone is home. Did Derek come back? I let myself sink through the floor to find my dad standing in the kitchen, flipping through the mail.

“Dad! Hurry! Mom needs you.”

He continues to read each envelope and even tears one open, pulling out a bill of some sort. A frown creases his brow and he exhales a loud breath.

“Damn it, Dad! Go upstairs!”

He looks up, confusion in his eyes.

“Yes! Go upstairs!”

He drops the mail, still staring at the ceiling, and hurries up the stairs. Suddenly he's racing to the top, barreling toward his bedroom. He finds Mom on the bed, totally unresponsive.

“Laynie, wake up!” He pats her face, checks her breathing, and then puffs three breaths into her mouth. After a hurried 911 call, he rushes back to my mother and continues doing CPR.



~A New Plan~



Brecken lies on his bed, staring at the dull, cracked ceiling in his basement bedroom. The sun will set in just a few hours. Lazy rays of light filter in through the tiny window above his dresser.

He lets his mind drift over his earlier conversation with the angel girl. She spoke to him. Actually spoke to him out loud. And she glowed, sitting there in the chair across from his bed. Long, dark brown hair down to her waist, and her eyes...

There was something about her eyes that intrigued him, and it wasn't just her pretty face. Her aura—the energy that swirled around her—was golden and faintly pink. He's never seen anything like it before, and he has seen plenty.

He'd had other visitors—guardians—and they always glowed white, like he imagined all angels glowing, but this girl...

What is it about her? Not that he is interested in finding out; surly this new guardian will be no different from the others.

The thing that really surprises him is the fact that she spoke to him. None of the others had or would. As soon as they learned he could not only hear them, but see them too, they freaked out and disappeared, only to be replaced by another. The last one had been over a year ago. He'd thought he was free of them. If they were going to send someone who would talk to him, why send such an annoying guardian angel?

He shakes his head and gets up. He'd get rid of her, just like the others. Show her what he's really like. That's all it usually takes. Once she gets to know him and learns about the life he leads, she'll be gone. It won't take much. It never does.



~A Civil Chat~



After a few hours of sitting at the hospital, I begin to feel that familiar itch that tells me I need to get back to Brecken. I ignore it, not willing to leave my mother yet. She needs me more, and I'll stay here as long as I can.

When the feeling becomes so intense I can no longer ignore it, I kiss my mom's sleeping face, so peaceful in her drug-induced coma. She'll be okay. Gram told me so, and I believe her, but I've had a small taste of what I did to my family. It's a bitter, jagged pill to swallow.

Reluctantly, and with a heavy sigh, I picture Brecken, focusing on his sad face, his penetrating eyes. This time I only take a second to appear at his side. He sits at a worn Formica table, slurping up Kraft macaroni and cheese. Two young girls eat beside him.

“Hey,” I say, sinking down in the one remaining chair. “I'm back. Sorry I had to leave—family emergency.”

Brecken freezes, the fork halfway to his mouth. He doesn't say a word, but looks around, taking a hesitant bite.

“You can hear me, right? I'm back,” I say again. “Just so you know.”

After a slow, controlled breath, he takes another bite, and I take in the scene. Brecken's eyes are the only things that move other than his methodical eating. The two little girls, roughly the ages of twelve and nine, continue to eat in silence.

“I guess you can't see me anymore since you're looking in the wrong direction,” I say, leaning back with a chuckle. “Who are these two?”

The slurping continues until the younger girl drops her fork in her bowl and says, “I'm done.”

“Put your bowl in the sink,” Brecken says, not looking up.

The girl obeys and not long after, the older girl follows suit. “I'm going outside,” she says with a half wave.

“K,” is Brecken's only response. When the door shuts firmly behind them, he places his hands on the table and frowns, his lips forming a pucker. “Why did you come back?”

“I'm supposed to help you. Duh.” I figure if I am open and honest then maybe my job will go quicker, and I can get out of here.

“With what?” he asks, clearing the table.

“I have no idea. They don't tell us. We have to figure it out ourselves. Maybe your drinking problem?”

He laughs, his eyes squinting, trying to see me. “I don't have a drinking problem.”

I laugh right back. “Yeah. Well. Whatever.”

He turns toward the sound of my voice. “So who are you?”

I forgot I haven't introduced myself. “I'm Alisa.” I'm not sure how much I should tell him, and I can't ask Raphael or Anaita since I'm pretty sure they already explained the rules when I wasn't listening.

“So you died or something?” he says, walking out of the room.

I figure I'm supposed to follow, so I do, floating a foot off the ground. It makes me feel cool and spooky. “Yep. I died.”


“I really don't want to talk about it.”

“And I really don't want you around.”


I follow him to the basement, to the room where I saw him earlier when he took his psycho pills. My mother has strict rules about going into a boy's bedroom. It's a big, fat no-no. And I have a hard time wanting to break her rule now.

I stare at him, and he stares at the wall, thinking he is staring at me. “Fine. I'll tell you a little about me, and you tell me a little about you. All right?”


I decide, as his guardian, that it's okay for me to go into his room, because it's not like we are going to make out. I walk in and sit down on a lonely wooden chair that faces his bed. Brecken plops down on this bed, crossing his feet.

“So, ask me anything,” I say, ready to deflect questions that get too personal.

He crosses his arms over his chest and contemplates. “I can see you again. Just barely.”

This is not what I expect him to say, but I don't leave in a panic this time. “How?” I ask, curious.

“I am a man of many talents,” he says with a chuckle, waving his hand through the air. “It's something I've always been able to do. I don't know why. I see auras too, but the light has to be dim. They're hard to see otherwise.”

I nod, thinking this over. “I guess that's why you can see me down here in the dark.”

These are definitely the special gifts Raphael spoke about. They have to be. And if I want to succeed, I have to be okay with it. I take stock of my feelings and analyze them, realizing that for the most part I'm cool with it. Kind of.

We sit silently for a moment.

“You're hot,” he says with a crooked smile. “At least from what I can tell.”

I swear I blush, if that's even possible. I've always thought my straight, dishwater blonde hair and dull brown eyes are plain, bordering on boring. I don't know why, but his compliment warms my cold, little heart a tiny bit. “Thank you. Do you see spirits on a regular basis?”

He laughs and sits up, brings his arms up to rest on his knees. He turns serious. “Naw. But I've seen my grandpa and my grandma a couple of times. Not my mom though. Don't know why.”

“Your mom? She's—”


“Oh. Sorry.”

He shrugs and doesn't say anything more about her. “The other people who've come, the ones like you, didn't like it that I could see them, and they wouldn't talk to me. There were three others.”

“Really? Girls or boys?”

“Two girls and one guy.”

I wonder who they were and what it was that made them give up and leave. “How long did they last?”

“Hanging with me, you mean?”

I nod and he glances at the ceiling, thinking. “Let's see. The first one only one day. That was a girl. The next guy lasted a week, but got totally frustrated when I wouldn't obey him.” He laughs and shakes his head. “Idiot. And the last girl stuck around for almost three weeks. I'm still not sure why she left.”

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