I can’t wait to hear what readers have to say about Sharlene Gallagher’s new adventure!
I look at the doublewide trailer then back to Peter and wonder if this could possibly be real.
Peter squints at me like he can’t believe I think he jokes about this kind of thing, but he doesn’t say a word. Unless it’s sage advice about my Guardian duties, Peter’s pretty tight lipped.
I thought that would change after…another story, another time. Suffice it to say Peter’s my boss, he saved my life and kept me as part of The Guardian. We’re angels. We protect innocents who have somehow gotten sucked onto a path toward death before their time. I’m not supposed to tell my charges I’m their Guardian, but that never seems to work out for me.
I’m a different kind of Guardian. I think I keep Peter on his toes, which is a very good thing.
“Here?” I stumble and nearly fall into a hole in the gravel road big enough to swallow a small car.
Peter doesn’t say anything, and my heart plummets. My last assignment nearly got me killed, but at least I got to live in a mansion. I’m dead already, courtesy of the serial killer who bludgeoned me to death. If I die in the afterlife, there are no third chances.
Peter takes my hand, one of the perks of this job, and we’re inside the trailer, in a room that looks like a million other rooms. Hello Kitty posters fight for wall space with posters of rock bands and Twilight movies. A black nail polish bottle turned over on its side sits on a plastic table near the twin bed that’s covered in a princess bedspread. A child’s colored paper is tacked to the inside of the door. The only thing out of place is a hole in the wall at the back of the room near the small closet.
All I can tell for sure is my new charge is tidy and likes vampires and maybe princesses.
“How long do I have?” I ask, and Peter understands I’m asking how long until I’m corporeal not how long until I either win and save my new charge or death wins and she dies.
“Tonight. In the morning you’ll be moving in next door with your mother.”
My heart twinges. I’m surprised the word still has power over me. I wonder what the word does to him now. After.
I’d met Peter’s mother on my last case. Scary chick with mucho crazy powers. You know those goddess statues at Caesar’s Palace? She’s like one of them. The real deal though, not a statue. And as terrifying as I found her, I think I liked her a bajillion times more than my mother…a woman who had turned her back on her daughter instead of facing the truth of her abusive husband.
I wipe away the bitterness of my human past and the worry over Peter’s sacrifice and try to focus on the case.
“I have a mother this time?” My voice sounds normal. Score one for me.
The smile on Peter’s face should have warned me. I’m still learning the truth about Peter’s tells, though, so I miss it.
Especially since he doesn’t get a chance to say more because the door shakes and a raven haired waif pushes her way inside. Once she crosses into her room, she slams her door shut, throws her book bag on the floor and flops onto the bed.
Her hair is dark as night, obviously bottle black. The ebony polish on her nails is chipped. She’s wearing ripped black leggings, a jean miniskirt, black ankle boots and a red, white and black striped long sleeved shirt. She throws her arm over her face so I can’t see what she looks like other than the fact that she’s tiny.
“Dagan.” A woman’s voice sounds at the door.
“Go away, Mom.” The girl on the bed says.
“Dagan, you can’t just stay in there.”
The girl pulls a pair of headphones from a pocket sewn across the front of her shirt and loses herself in music so loud I can hear it. It sounds more like a bunch of screaming than singing to me, but she seems to like it alright. She doesn’t answer her mother, but she does drop her arm, so I can see her.
Her skin is too pale. The kind of pale from being sick or malnourished or using the wrong color foundation. Her eyes are way too dark from eyeliner that went out of style in the early 80s. When I look beyond the black smudges marring her skin, I see her eyes are actually amazing. Crystal blue almond shaped eyes that seem to war with being too big and perfect at the same time. She’s staring at the ceiling in a way I understand. She’s here in this room, but not really. I wonder where her mind is, where she’s escaped to.
She opens a drawer in the blue plastic table beside her bed and shoves a photo aside to grab a moleskin journal. She stares at the pages blankly for awhile then starts writing furiously. For an hour she pours her heart out on the pages until the words work themselves out. I’ll need to look at that journal. That’s what I’m thinking when she stops writing. But then she takes the pen she’s using and starts stabbing the notebook then drawing dark lines through the words until nothing’s left but a sheet of angry scribbles.
When she throws the journal it hits the wall and bounces back at the same time her feet hit the floor. A few seconds later she’s out the door without a word.
“Should we follow?” I ask completely unsure. I understand pain. I understand anger. But this is something different.
When Peter doesn’t answer, I turn to see what he thinks, but, of course, I’m alone in the room. Peter’s gone.
My charge, my case, my choice.
I start to head out the door but something in the drawer catches my attention. It’s the photo that had been on top of the journal. The frame is cheap, shiny metal. The kind you get at a discount store. The photo inside shows a gap-toothed elementary-aged child with eyes that match Dagan’s. And beside the frame a newspaper clipping. The headline stops me cold. Girl Goes Missing, Foul Play Suspected.
I can’t pick up the paper without Peter. Not until I’m corporeal, but I can read it.
Gentry Miller, 7, missing from a park near her home since Christmas. No witnesses. No clues.
Crap. A missing kid. Why on earth would Peter assign me to this case? I mean, I can help Dagan with her makeover needs and I might be able to help keep her alive, but a missing sister is way out of my newbie Guardian league. We don’t get to choose our assignments though, so I need to get to work.
I start to zap to wherever it is my new charge has disappeared, but I stop when her mother walks into the room. The woman wears the lines of pain around her eyes with a pretty kind of grace. Her blonde hair is pulled back in a tight ponytail. She’s sporting green scrubs with chunky white tennis shoes, and she looks way too young to be the mother of my charge. She sits on Dagan’s bed, runs her hand over the bedspread and bites her lip when she sees the photo in the bedside table. I think maybe she’s going to pull it out of the drawer, but she doesn’t. Instead she closes the drawer, then shuts her eyes and says a small prayer.
Please God, keep her safe. Please, keep her safe.
And I wonder if she means Dagan or the little girl in the photo.