Authors: Melissa Cunningham
He knew this hiatus from all things spooky and psycho was too good to last. Glancing at the clock, he prays for the last five minutes of class to zoom by.
He hears every tick of the clock, every scuffle of feet, and every droning word from the teacher. On and on the class proceeds. His armpits grow sticky, the room stifling. Perspiration beads on his forehead and his heart races. He can't breathe as he cradles his head in his hands. He has to get out of here, away from the suffocating presence.
Brecken wonders if he really is crazy. Maybe it really is all in his head. Maybe none of it is real.
He can't believe that.
The bell will ring... any second... he has to hang on until the bell...
The room grows dark, and he begins to feel dizzy. He scrunches his eyes closed.
Just like Raphael said, I feel drawn to this mysterious boy. Who is he really? What kind of mess is he involved in? What are his feelings, his desires? What will I experience being with him all the time?
I could have been at his side with a blink of my eyes, but I take the long way. Why hurry after all? I float through the familiar-looking halls, amazed that all high schools are built exactly alikeâfrom the painted brick walls, to the hard, glossy floors.
I let the unpleasant sensation of being in school again wash over me. It prickles the back of my mind, making me feel anxious and unprepared, like I have a missing assignment or something.
I stop at a puce-painted door halfway down the hall. Brecken is inside. I can feel it, and the sensation paralyzes me. I place my fingertips on the door and close my eyes, leaning my head forward. The room will be filled with at least twenty students. They can't see me, and won't know I'm there, but I imagine the pressure of their gazes, as though I am walking in with a real body.
This is it. This is my moment, and I'm not going to let some stupid boy and a bunch of his idiotic friends scare me into failing. Closing my eyes, I float through the closed door, letting myself enjoy that slight pull on my soul as I meld with the wood for one second, feeling its aliveness, its purpose. This is one part of being a spirit that is genuinely cool.
Once through, the brightness in the room surprises me. As unexpected as that is, what amazes me even more is that the glow radiates around one person in particular.
He sits sprawled at his desk, his feet clad in heavy black combat books, his ankles crossed. A thick, ratty sweatshirt stretches over his wide shoulders, and even though his hair is a mess, it fits him, making him much sexier than is healthy for a seventeen-year-old boy.
Brecken sits up straight looking terrified. His hands grip the edge of his desk and his head swivels back and forth, searching the room.
I search too. What is he looking for? Maybe he belongs in a loony bin rather than public school. The students sitting closest to him look nervous and scoot further away. I sit down in an empty seat and watch him.
“Dude, what's your problem?” a boy to Brecken's right asks, scowling.
“Shut up,” is Brecken's terse reply.
The teacher at the front of the room explains the story of Romeo and Juliet, their fated love, and how they were doomed from the beginning. I studied that story when I was alive and thought it unrealistic. If two people want each other that much, they should be smart enough to figure it out instead of pretending suicide, but who am I to judge? I've never even had a steady boyfriend.
Brecken doesn't seem the least bit interested in the discussion. He's back to slouching in his desk, carving a deep crevasse into the top with a sharp object I can't identify.
Turning to the rest of the class, my gaze falls upon a girl who watches Brecken. Her short, spiky hair and black leather clothes narrow down which crowd she hangs out with.
He doesn't give her the time of day or even glance in her direction. It's as though she doesn't exist for him at all. Poor girl. I know that feelingâliking a guy who doesn't give a crap if you are dead or alive.
I sigh. What do I care? I'll never get the chance to be with a guy ever again. At least this girl still has time.
As soon as the bell rings, Brecken explodes from his seat, practically flying from the room. I actually have to hurry to catch up. The first thing I do is smack straight into a tall, well-muscled jock, who is also hurrying to leave the room. We meld together, my soul filling his body, his heartbeat becoming mine, his muscles filling me with strength, his thoughts becoming clear to me. With a yelp of surprise, I pull away, a humid substance clinging to me. Not unlike the muck in Soul Prison. Yuck.
The boy freezes, a frown appearing on his tanned face. He turns and searches behind him, then stands there for a moment shaking his head. He finally continues on to his locker.
Making my way carefully, I avoid every other person before me. Even though it was a strange and slightly exciting experience to meld with another living being, it slowed me down and coated me with residue, making me feel sullied and wanting a bath.
Staying focused on Brecken turns out to be tricky, until I float to the ceiling to follow him. He escapes outside, and flees around the corner of the school. When I catch up, he's bent over, his hands on his knees, practically hyperventilating.
u?” he says in a venomous whisper.
I search the surrounding area trying to figure out who he's talking to. I shake my head, thinking he really is crazy, but then he stands up and seems to look right into my eyes. We're almost the same height. He's only a few of inches taller.
“I know you're there. I can
I look around again. He can't be talking to
He doesn't even know I'm here. No one can see their guardian. And I smell? What theâ? How rude. I pretend I didn't hear him say anything.
Other students pour from the doors, hurrying to the buses parked at the curb. Some walk down the sidewalk in front of the school. The rich ones climb into their own cars. Curious, I wait to see what Brecken will do. He just stands there, leaning against the cool, brick building, his eyes closed.
wing why, and not really thinking about it, I reach up and place my hand on his arm. Mostly to comfort him since it looks like he needs it, but also to figure out... something.
He radiates lightânot like Raphael or other spirits I've metâbut a brighter light than most living people. What makes him different?
As soon as my fingers touch his skin, a tidal wave of pressure washes over me. Not physically painful, but agonizing in its loneliness and despair. My mind grows dark and dizziness overwhelms me. I crumple in on myself, letting go of him and stumbling to the rough cement. I back away, weakened, and look up at him, holding my fingers, which still burn with the memory of contact.
“You shouldn't have done that,” he says with an
I told you so
tone of voice. “I don't know who you are, or what you're doing here, but there's no way you can help me, or change who I am. You might as well leave... like all the rest.”
He knows I'm here. He felt me touch him. That isn't possible. How can I guard a guy who knows I'm here? It won't work. And there have been others? Who failed? Am I doomed to fail too? A momentary panic seizes me. Closing my eyes, I take a moment to re-focus. Just because others failed doesn't mean I will.
“I mean it,” he says again, slouching against the brick wall. “Go.”
Just then, a girl rounds the corner. She sidles up next to him. “I thought I might find you here.” She slips her arms through his, and then leans in close, her straight, platinum hair flowing like a veil over Brecken's face. As she presses forward, brushing his lips with hers, her short mini-skirt lifts. She moves against him, and I can actually see her hot pink satin underwear. He wraps an arm around her and brings her closer.
Entranced, but disgusted, I keep right on staring. What will they do next? Right here in broad daylight?
~First Day on the Job~
Watching Brecken kiss the sleaze-bucket actually makes me nauseous, and I don't have to wait long to find out what they do next. The girl slides her hands up the inside of his sweatshirt, and snuggles against his bare, muscled chest. For a split second, I want to rip her arms off. I have no idea where the emotion comes from.
Brecken looks around, and then pulls her arms gently from his shirt. “Not now, Jilly.”
“What?” She looks around with a sly smile. “There's no one here and it's always more fun when you might get caught.”
“Ugh,” I say, turning away so I don't have to watch.
Brecken straightens and gently pushes Jill back. She stumbles over her combat boots, and I laugh out loud.
“What?” she asks, confused, her eyebrows creasing.
He takes her hand and leads her down the sidewalk toward the street. “Don't follow me,” he says over his shoulder.
I guess he's talking to me.
“Why not?” Jill asks. “I thought we were going out tonight.” She gives him a cute little pout that I'm sure she has practiced in front of a mirror.
” He grits his teeth and pulls her along.
Jill's lips pucker and her eyes close to slits. “Well, who else, Breck? There's no one around.” She turns in a circle and motions with her hands out. “You're being weird again.”
With a sigh of resignation, he shakes his head. “Whatever. Come on.” He doesn't say anything more, and I float along behind them reluctantly. At least they are somewhat entertaining. I'm beginning to think this job of being a guardian is not what it's cracked up to be. So far, it's not what I expected, nor am I having any fun. My mood darkens the longer I follow them. If this kid can hear me, maybe I should tell him what I think of this whole situation. In my opinion, he deserves to be taken down a notch.
“Your first and biggest mistake is your taste in girls,” I state, walking behind them, my hands clasped behind my back. It makes me feel very therapist-like.
“It's none of your business!” He storms down the sidewalk, Jill's hand gripped in his fist.
my business,” Jill says, whipping her hand away. “You scare me when you act like this. All paranoid.” She folds her arms and cocks her hip. “Look, Breck, I've stayed by you through thick and thin, but if you're going to go all nuts on me again... ”
“Jilly, I'm not nuts.”
“Let me help you,” she begs. “You know I can.” Her arms snake around him as she presses her body up against his again.
I can't help but laugh, shaking my head. “What a winner.”
Pursing his lips, he gently shoves her back. “I can't do this right now. I need to get home. I won't be able to go out tonight either, but I'll call you. Please don't be mad.” He pulls her close and kisses her quickly, then jogs away, leaving Jill and me staring after him.
That's it? He's going to run away and hide? What happened to Mr. Tough guy? I glance at Jill whose mouth gapes open.
“I don't think you should go after him,” I say, since it looks like she might.
With an angry shrug of her shoulders, she turns and heads the other way, a scowl on her face.
And it hits me. She listened to me! Was that all it took? A little suggestion? A tiny whisper in her ear and she changed her mind? Maybe this assignment won't be so hard after all. Then I remember I can't whisper in Brecken's ear. I don't need to whisper at all. He can hear me loud and clear.
I stand there thinking I should probably go after him. It's what a good guardian would do, and if I want to succeed at this stupid mission, it will be better to get it over with quickly. I can get out of here and be with Gram, and then I'll never have to see Bad Boy Brecken again.
With a sigh, I blink my eyes, feeling that tug and pull in my belly that is now familiar with spirit travel, and poof, I'm at Brecken's side. Oh, happy day.
He pounds down the sidewalk, his hands stuffed into his pockets, his frown deepening as soon as I appear. “Can't you go away?”
“Go away? I just got here. I
to be here, and believe me, you're no picnic.” I look the other way, truly wishing I were anywhere else.
He turns toward the sound of my voice. “Excuse me? How did you get this job? They have to recruit from snobville now?” he says with a derogatory laugh.
That's a little below the belt because it's certainly not true.
hear me. Unbelievable.” I can't believe Raphael would send me to someone like this. I shake my head, itching to smack Brecken upside the head. I try to think of a comment that will get under his skin to get even for the “recruiting from snobville” comment. “Can't you drive home? Did the cops impound your mexi-car?”
“You're an idiot.”
“Shut up,” I answer, trying not to sound offended.
.” He mimics my voice.
mature. You argue like a two-year-old,” I say, even though I sound the same way.
A sneer twists his face as he goes in for the kill. “How old are
You sound like you're twelve. Did they send a snot-nosed, elementary school kid to guard me? Really?”
I stick my tongue out, tempted to add another gesture even though I'm pretty sure he can't see me, but then decide it won't look good on video at the library... just in case anyone is watching.
With a resigned shake of his head, and his mouth twisting in irritation, he walks toward a neighborhood where all the houses look exactly alike. Small, brickâvarying in colorâtiny front porches, and peeling paint on the gables over each front door.
I don't say another word until we turn up the walkway to a red brick house. The neatly trimmed lawn has browned, and a couple of little bushes grow on either side of the cracked cement porch. It's obvious right off the bat that the people who lived here don't have a lot of money, but at least the house is neat.