Guardian Angels

Guardian Angels
by Robert A. Howard

April stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Brown eyes stared back at her, deep shadows lurking under her eyes. Her bangs drifted over her eyes and she pushed them back, pushed her hair back, her fingers catching in snarls.

Her hair had never been quite right after the incident when the new dorms blew up. The back of it had gotten burnt. Still, she resisted cutting it short; she remembered that her mother had always loved braiding her hair. Keeping it long was a way to honor her memory. And she couldn’t remember much of her mother. She had tantalizing tidbits here and there, loving moments of being with her mother, but that was all. And she remembered the fall, when her mother had slipped from the trapeze… and her father had tried to catch her and cushion her body with his own… and failing.

But it didn’t matter now. None of it mattered. It never had. She was imperfect. Incomplete. Whatever her dad had said… whatever act that had separated her and June, turning his daughter into twins, each having gotten part of the original’s memories… and soul, had left her a shadow, a defective copy. June was right about that. She was defective. That was why she was alone.

Mike was busy taking Marsha out to dinner, to some fancy restaurant where the guys had to wear ties and a jacket, and the girls fancy dresses. Marsha had actually splurged, dragging April along to go to various shops until she found a dress she liked, something with a high back to conceal her wings, but cut down low in the front to show off her breasts. And a new bra to push them up more, make her look larger than she was.

Not that Mike cared about breast size. Hers were easily bigger than Marsha’s. But Mike never looked twice at them. He never looked twice at her. April watched a tear tumble from her eyelashes and down her cheek, hot against her flesh, and she rubbed it away, pulling up the neck of her nightie to rub her eyes.

April looked down at it; white lace sewn on top of pale pink cotton, a little bow between her breasts. She used to dream of wearing it to bed for Mike. Or for any guy really. But outside of Roger, she didn’t think any man had seen her in it. She’d brought it with her from home… and in all that time, she’d found no one. Dave had been wrong about that. She wouldn’t find someone. Why would anyone waste time with her?

She heard a door shut and listened for a moment, but heard nothing else. It was probably across the hall. Margaret had gone out shooting with some of her buddies in the gun club. Not that she really wanted to spend time with the brunette; Margaret had mostly avoided her since the guys had brought her back from wherever she’d run away to.

It hurt. They’d built up a bit of trust and friendship up until that point. It wasn’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but Margaret had trusted her with stuff she’d not told anyone but Dave. About how she believed the Devil was after her… and her nightmares of the end of the world and everyone dying.

That had changed a couple weeks ago, when Marsha and Margaret had cornered her and forced her to admit she’d been working to keep Marsha and Mike apart. Margaret started to freak out and ran off, claiming that April wasn’t responsible for her actions, that the Devil had made her do it. Which was utter nonsense.

But that didn’t stop Margaret from avoiding her. She didn’t have any friends left. Even Dave was seeing Blue, and she hated April. It wouldn’t be long before Dave avoided her as well, poisoned by Blue’s words.

The mirror blurred again, and April pulled up her nightie again, rubbing her eyes on the collar. It wasn’t fair! Why did Mike have to love that damn bitch, and not her? Why did he hate her? Why? Her throat constricted, and she felt that hollow in her chest grow, burning, consuming what little bit of a soul she had. She was worthless. She was nothing. June was right. Mike was right. She was useless. Defective. Nothing.

What are you doing?

Her imaginary wiser self floated next to her, staring at April. April looked from her and back to the mirror. She blinked. The mirror was opened, revealing the cabinet behind it. A bottle of Tums, half-empty, stood there, as did a bottle of aspirin, some Tylenol, and a new bottle of Benadryl. Marsha had started cooking again, and sometimes the Benadryl helped keep her from breaking into hives after tasting some of the food. Or it would help her get to sleep afterward, despite an upset stomach.

What are you doing? Her imaginary self repeated.

April closed her eyes for a moment and then with a trembling hand reached out for the aspirin. The bottle rattled as she picked it up, and felt lighter than it should; she popped it open and saw there were only a couple dozen capsules left. She turned down and turned on the water, filling the glass they used when brushing their teeth. She poured half-dozen tablets in hand and then popped them in her mouth, following with a mouthful of water, swallowing them down.

Don’t do that. What, are you going to kill yourself? Over Mike? Are you nuts?

“Shut up, imaginary wiser me. I just want… I want the pain to go away. I want it to end. Is that asking too much? Is it?” She started sobbing, tears running down her cheeks, and she poured more aspirin in her hand, popping them in her mouth and washing them down with more water. Her stomach churned, and she swallowed down the nausea that suddenly clenched her throat.

Her imaginary wiser self shook her head. It won’t work, you know. You can’t overdose on that many aspirin. Besides, you know what happens when you O.D. on aspirin? You start vomiting blood. You’ll start bleeding and you can’t stop. Do you really want to be found like that, all bloodied on the floor?

“Shut UP already!” she screamed, throwing the bottle of aspirin through her imaginary wiser self. The bottle bounced and rolled behind the toilet, several caplets scattering on the floor. She swallowed down bile at the thought of taking aspirin from the bathroom floor and swallowing them, even if she was going to die. She started to sob. “I can’t even kill myself right, can I. Oh God…”

April… you don’t want to die. Not really. You’re just lonely. Look… just go to bed. Go to sleep. Things will be better tomorrow. Trust me, her imaginary self said, trying to console her.

April turned away from her other self. “You don’t understand. You’ll never understand.” She sniffled, rubbing tears out of her eyes and looked up into the cabinet. The bottle of Benadryl sat on the shelf, waiting silently.

April?

She reached out and took the Benadryl in a shaking hand, and struggled with the safety top. After a moment, it popped off. Her imaginary self reached out, trying to grab at April’s hand, but April ignored her and poured a half dozen into her hand. She popped them in her mouth and then swallowed the last of the water. A moment later she turned the water on again, letting it pour out.

Oh God. Please stop, April.

April filled the glass, and poured some more pills into her hand. How many would it take? Her stomach churned again, and she fought down the nausea. It wouldn’t do any good if she took half the bottle, only to throw them all up. She put one pill in her mouth, and washed it down, and then another, and a third. After the eighth, she had to pause, struggling to keep from vomiting. Her bladder also was starting to ache, and she paused long enough to pee.

April? You have to go to a doctor. Please. Please, call 911. April?

She ignored her other self. Obviously taking them one at a time wasn’t going to do. She trembled and then poured a handful of pills into her hand and tossing them into her mouth. She started to swallow, forcing them down, and then quickly swallowing water when her stomach started to rebel. She trembled over the sink, retching, feeling her stomach trying its best to empty its contents, even as she forced herself to keep it all down. She coughed, coughed again and gagged, a pill finding its way into her mouth. She spat it out into the sink and then looked at the bottle of Benadryl. It was over half empty now, of a bottle of 100 pills. Was that enough?

She felt her shoulders start to shake as her stomach cramped. It was like it was full of cement, and her skin was clammy, it was so cold. She kept blinking her eyes, and noticed that the bathroom was fading in and out of focus. She wretched again, and felt something warm trickling down her lip. She licked it… tasting something thick and kind of salty, with a metallic taste… it took her a moment to realize it was blood.

Oh God… April! Call 911! You have to! April! Please! her imaginary self pleaded with her. It was strange. Everything else was shifting in and out of focus… but her imaginary self was still clear as day, perfectly visible.

“No…” April whispered, and stood from the toilet, stumbling for a moment before she realized her undies were still down around her knees. She pulled them up with one hand and stumbled into the living room. Her blanket lay folded on the end of the sofa, and she stumbled against the edge of the sofa, pulling the blanket to her and trying to pull it around her.

The apartment grew darker, the cold biting into her shoulders. She found herself huddled on the floor, retching, trying so hard to keep from throwing up all over the carpet. She couldn’t do this again. She couldn’t swallow all those pills. She had to keep them down… finally she managed to wrap her blanket around her, shuddering on the floor, the taste of blood in her mouth.

She heard something, a scratching, heard a low yowl and blinked… for a moment she could see something on the ledge, black against black yet visible, a bluish glow around it. ‘Dave…’ she thought, and then corrected herself. ‘No. Chester.’ Her imaginary self hovered by Dave’s furry soulcat, pleading with the feline… and everything went dark.

* * * * *

there was a noise…

a banging…

it competed with the throbbing in her ears, slowing…

a crash.

something rough scraped against her cheek, soft, wet.

motion.

coldness on her legs

pressure on her chest

something in her mouth, her stomach surged…

April opened her eyes and puked, feeling things scraping along her throat, bouncing from her teeth as she vomited. She tried closing her mouth, tried swallowing it down, but something was in her mouth and she heard a voice, a light tenor curse and then return to pleading.

‘Dave?’

“God April, you’ve got to wake up… come on, throw up, you’ve got to… don’t bite me! Damn it!” She blinked, her vision blurring before her as she looked down into the toilet and saw a brownish mass before her, with bubbles… no, pills… and she suddenly puked again, feeling the contents of her stomach empty and she watched as the water churned, and then closed her eyes.

It seemed forever and then finally she stopped, she gagged, and feebly tried pushing the fingers from her mouth. Finally they pulled out, but she gagged again, feeling her stomach clench, pull up against her spine. Nothing came out, though. She spat, trying to get the taste out of her mouth, of the bile and blood and medicine.

“Water?” she pleaded, her voice barely audible to her ears.

“What?

She turned. It was Dave, and Chester was sitting on the sink, but it was more than Chester, she could see Dave sitting there as well, a pale blue Dave, who was looking up at her imaginary wiser self, and she was staring down, crying, she was crying and she looked scared. April blinked her eyes, it was so dark and she was tired, so tired but her mouth tasted vile and she asked again, “water?”

Dave blinked and then he was pushing his other self aside, Dave/Chester jumped to the top of the toilet and sat again and she heard water flowing. After a moment Dave reached down with a glass. She tried to take it, but her hands were shaking so badly she couldn’t grab the glass. Dave finally pressed it against her lips and she sipped the water, taking more in and then pulling away. Water splashed down against her neck, cold, before Dave up righted the glass.

She tried rinsing her mouth, she swished it once and gave up, spitting it out into the toilet, into the floating mass staring up at her, her failure. She sobbed. “should let me go…”

“Shhh… it’ll be okay, April. It’ll be okay. I’m going to call a doctor, okay? Just stay awake for me, okay?”

“no! no doctors. no… promise…” she pleaded, her voice raw. She reached out for the water, her hand still shaking, and after a moment Dave brought the water down to her again, holding it for her. This time she swallowed it. Her stomach clenched and she pulled away again, clutching the toilet as she gagged. The water splashed against her nightie, feeling frigid, and she started shaking.

She felt hands on her shoulders, holding her, and she shuddered, feeling her stomach heave. Another pill popped out and she spat it into the toilet before turning away. “promise…”

“April? April… oh God… okay okay, no doctors, just stay awake. Open your eyes, April. What’s wrong? Tell me what to do, God… oh please, please help us please…” April opened her eyes and saw tears flowing down Dave’s cheeks, down his neck, and she reached up, trembling, touching his cheek. She shuddered again and felt Dave’s arms wrap around her.

It felt good, being held. He was hot, hot against her, and she shivered again, clutching him close. “so cold…” she started to gasp, sobbing again. She felt Dave’s hands rubbing against her back, through her nightie, but it didn’t help, she still shuddered, spasming against him.

Finally, he pulled her up, holding her erect, and then stumble against the tub. He reached down, pulling her legs out from under her, picking her up as he stepped into the tub, and then letting her down again, leaning against the wall and him. He reached down and the water hissed, hitting against her. She yelped at the coldness, but after a few moments it started heating up, too hot, and she stumbled, trying to pull away. “No… too hot…”

“Shh… it’s okay, April, I’m just warming you up, come on…” she heard Dave say, but he still turned the cold water on fuller, and the water cooled a little. She continued to shiver, almost convulse against Dave, but the warmth of the shower and of Dave slowly started to seep down to her bones, and finally she started to feel warm, for the first time that night.

Dave was still talking, she realized. He’d been talking all this time, though she didn’t remember of what. It half-sounded like he was praying, every so often it seemed he was begging God to help, and she started to cry again in his arms. God didn’t love her. No one did. “Oh god… why’d you stop me? Why? I want to die…”

“No! No you don’t… oh God… April, I don’t know what to do. I can’t… you need help, I can’t…” Dave’s words finally broke through and she looked up, noticing that he was still crying, his face wasn’t wet just because of the shower. His shirt was soaked through, he was soaked through, sharing the shower with her, holding her up even now.

“You promised, Dave!” April found herself pleading. She didn’t want to see the condescending look on Mike’s face, or the pity in Marsha’s. She couldn’t. “You promised. No doctors. Please. Please no. Don’t… don’t tell anyone. Please… oh God I’m begging you…”

“Okay… okay… I promise… just… oh god… don’t die, April, please…” he pleaded, looking down at her, holding her face, rubbing a finger under her nose. She felt something flaking under his finger, and realized it was blood, from her nosebleed.

Suddenly she needed to get out of the shower, and she pushed away from Dave, stumbling against the edge of the tub, falling… she felt Dave’s arm catch her, squishing her breasts and then pulling her up. “No… want to get out… please.”

“Okay, okay…” she felt Dave adjust his grip, and he helped balance her as she stumbled out of the tub. She leaned against the wall as he leaned in and turned off the water. It continued to drip off of him, and she could feel it running off of her, her nightie clinging to her skin and growing cold. She started to shiver again.

Dave pulled a towel off of the rack, and immediately started toweling April off. For a moment she considered pushing him away, but it was too much effort. She just stood there, passive, as he tried to dry her. As he started to rub the towel over her breasts, his face started to burn red and she found herself smiling despite herself. Dave was always Dave. She started blushing too and reached out, her hand trembling, and took the towel. “Thanks.”

“I… I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have…” Dave was busy looking away. Over his shoulder, she could see her imaginary wiser self rolling her eyes. Her cheek was still stained with tears, and she looked worried… but she was smiling also.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

Her imaginary self shrugged. Don’t do it again, and we’ll be even. Her imaginary self paused and then added in a softer tone, please.

“What did you say?” Dave asked. He was still blushing fiercely, and kept glancing at her face and then looking away.

“I… I’m sorry. It’s my fault. It’s okay, Dave,” she said, sniffling. She reached forward and hugged him, despite the fact he was still soaked. She shivered as his shirt soaked her nightie again, but after a moment she felt warmth again, his warmth. It felt good, it felt like she meant something, like she wasn’t alone any longer.

After a moment, his arms went around her, holding her close. He sighed. “We should get you changed into something dry. Wish you had something I could wear. I’m dripping everywhere.”

“I’ll get you something… hold on…” April said, turning away from Dave. She stumbled and fell to the floor. Dave was by her side in a flash. “Um… I can crawl?” she said, trying to stifle a sob.

“Um… I… I can wear a towel. If that’s okay. I can help you into your room. Just… no looking. Please.” Dave asked, and April couldn’t help but smiling again.

“Okay, Dave,” she said, closing her eyes. After a moment she heard the schlorrrp of wet cloth, and heard her imaginary wiser self catcall. She couldn’t resist and peeked as Dave struggled to pull the shirt over his head, and continued to peek as he then pulled his jeans off. Suddenly she felt her face burning. “Um… you could probably keep your boxers on under the towel, right?” she blurted out.

Spoilsport!

‘Shut up, imaginary wiser me!’ she thought, her face burning. She closed her eyes the rest of the way, refusing to look further.

“Um… yeah. Yeah, I can,” Dave said, sounding relieved. Soon she heard the sound of cloth rubbing, and a minute later she felt Dave’s hand touch her shoulder. “Okay, I’m all set. Thanks.”

She glanced up, seeing a towel wrapped around Dave’s waist like a kilt. She reached up and let Dave pull her up. They stumbled toward the bedroom. She was shaking again, partly with cold, partly with exhaustion. Finally she half-collapsed onto Margaret’s bed. “Could you get me a shirt? And some underwear? I… I’m the third drawer down.” She drew her arms around her stomach, shivering again. Her stomach was aching something fierce and she could feel the urge to throw up starting to rise. She swallowed down bile.

Dave turned and pulled the drawer open, and she watched as the back of his neck turned red as he pulled out a pair of panties and a nightshirt. “How did you know?” she asked, almost whispering.

He turned back toward her, her shirt and undies dangling in his hand. “What?”

“How did you know I was…” April looked down at her knees.

Dave was silent a moment and then sat on the bed next to her. “I… I don’t know. I… I was studying when Chester came in. He started meowing and scratching at the door… and I… I could sense he was worried. You know.”

April nodded. She knew about Chester’s link with Dave, that part of his soul was in the cat. Chester had led them to Dave and Margaret, back when Dave and Margaret had gone out on a date, and ended up lost in the woods after crashing Mike’s car into a river. And she’d seen other things that had further verified this link.

“I saw Chester at the window, when I passed out,” April admitted. She leaned against Dave. He put his arm around her shoulder.

“Hmm. Well… he was scratching at your door… I tried to get him to leave, I thought he just wanted… wanted to snuggle with Margaret or something but… but something just seemed… I just knew. Somehow. I… I tried the door… and was about to try zapping the lock when… I heard a click. I tried the door again and it opened… you were standing by the door like…” Dave shook his head.

April looked at him. “What?”

“It was like a ghost. And then you disappeared… and Chester rushed in. And I found you next to the sofa, huddled under a blanket and… and you wouldn’t wake up and I went in the bathroom to get some water and found your Benadryl… and well, I put two and two together,” Dave sighed.

“I was by the door? But…”

“No. You weren’t, April. Or… I don’t know. I guess… maybe it was an angel, looking over you.”

April glanced past Dave. Her imaginary wiser self was floating in mid-air, smiling down at her. I can’t do that most of the time. But… it was worth it, this once, her imaginary self said.

‘Do what? What cost?’ April shivered. Dave rubbed his hand along her damp nightie.

Move things. Affect the world. And… her imaginary wiser self sighed. Don’t worry about it.

‘No! Tell me!’ she thought.

I just lose a small piece of myself when I do that. But you’re worth it, April. You’re worth any price.

April sniffled and started sobbing again. She felt Dave shift her, and she turned toward him, hugging him close as she cried. His arms encompassed her, holding her close, comforting her. Still, she cried.

Just promise me you won’t ever do that again, and we’ll be even. Okay? her imaginary self said, sounding almost flippant, but her expression showed otherwise.

“I promise. I promise I won’t…” April sobbed into Dave’s shoulder.

“Won’t what?” Dave asked.

She sniffled into Dave’s collar. “Won’t kill myself. I promise…” Imaginary Floating Wiser April smiled and descended next to her, wrapping her arms around April. For a moment, she swore she felt the feathers of wings brush against her arms. And then there was nothing, but a feeling of warmth and joy, and she held Dave, knowing she wasn’t alone. She had her friend. And her guardian angels.

The End.

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