“Can you not stand so close by?” I murmured to the figure that loomed over my shoulder. I glanced around the classroom, surveying the two dozen students that were seated in perfectly straight rows, pencils scratching across paper, assuring myself that none of them heard my statement.
My gaze dropped back to my own desk, where a blank sheet stared back at me. “You’re making it hard to concentrate.”
He responded, his voice also in a whisper, even though I was the only one that could hear him. Or see him, for that matter. For three weeks no one had seemed to notice the silent, omnipresent figure that lurked wherever I went.
“You haven’t written anything in your notebook yet.” He noted. “You should write something, class is almost over.”
“That’s hard to do when you’re practically breathing down my neck.”
“I don’t breathe.” He said simply, “I don’t need to.”
I turned, not actually looking at him, just enough so that my voice carried in his direction, and said, “You also don’t need to stand right behind me twenty four seven like some sort of ghost!”
Eyes turned on me from the nearest desks, looking at me with quizzical glances. My whisper had carried. The figure standing at my side seemed to casually watch the scene, his foot tapping to a soundless melody. I was saved from making a comment by the bell. Classmates exited the class, their overweight backpacks slung over their shoulders. I took my time so as to not have to bump into anyone on my way out, the last to rise from my desk. When I walked out of the doorway I placed an empty sheet of paper with my name on it at the bottom of a stack of papers on the teacher’s desk.
The hallway was noisy and crowded, a complete opposite from inside the classroom, and that must have given him the idea that I’d want to talk to him. He spoke loudly in the raucous atmosphere . He tended to do that. Despite the fact that I was the only one that noticed him, he acted like he was a physical human, whispering when it was silent, shouting when it was loud, as if acting normal made the situation any more so.
“You need to be more careful.” he said. He walked alongside me in the hall, walking right through people. It was eerie. Despite the fact that he was six foot three with disheveled hair obscuring brown eyes similar to my own and a gray T-shirt that looked real to me, he could walk straight through physical objects. “People are going to think you’re insane.”
“I wouldn’t have to be careful if you just left me alone.” I told him off, fighting through the hallway traffic. He glided through like a bowling ball down a lane, walking straight through a tall sports jock. The jock continued on his way, as if nothing had happened. Creepy, I thought, avoiding my stalker’s eye as he looked at me. I tried to avoid looking at him a lot. “Why can’t you be a good ghost and watch me from the corner of the room instead?”
“I’m not a ghost.” He said again in that matter of fact tone. “I’m your guardian angel.”
Instead of telling him to piss off, I turned down a corner of the hall, weaving my way through elbows and backpacks.
“Your next period is math.”
“I know my own schedule.” I replied, not looking back at him.
“Then why are you heading the other way?”
“Because I’m going to the bathroom.”
“Turn back.” He advised.
“You’re going to be late.”
“Yep.” I slipped into the girls’ bathroom, leaving him standing outside. This was one of the only places that he left me alone in. Maybe he thought it was morally correct, considering nothing was stopping him, but I didn’t really care. I was only planning on staying in there for a few minutes, but I felt tired. I hadn’t slept well last night (who can when there’s someone constantly watching you?) and I must have fallen asleep because next thing I knew someone was knocking on the stall door, asking if I was done.
It was the janitor. I asked her what time it was, and she said it was five o’clock. School had ended two hours ago.
Unsurprised, I exited the bathroom, thinking that maybe if I left fast enough he wouldn’t see me, or better, that he wouldn’t be there at all.
I was wrong. The instant I entered the empty hallway I saw him, waiting right outside of the door. I turned down the hall and made a beeline towards my locker, ignoring his words and his attempts to make eye contact.
“You fell asleep again, didn’t you?” I stayed quiet. “I went to your classes.” Not a peep. I opened my locker. “You have homework in Social Science and English. And that project in Chemistry is almost due. Your partners aren’t happy that you haven’t been helping.”
I slung my backpack onto my shoulders, full of books and homework I wasn’t planning on doing. Maybe if I ignored him long enough he’d give up the ‘guardian’ act and leave.
His resilience must have been worth millions because he wasn’t the least bit fazed by my lack of response. “Come on Wendy, you can’t live like this. What would your brother say?”
My locker door slammed shut and I gave him a burning glare before stomping out of the school, the noise of my boots like boulders careening down a steep mountain, heading towards a cliff.
It was gray outside, the sky heavy with obese clouds and laced with roaring thunder and screeching lightening. I managed to get home before big fat drops started splattering the suburban sidewalk. My older brother’s broken bike was chained to the tree in our front yard, where it hadn’t been touched in weeks. My dad’s car was in the driveway. He was home early. He’d been coming home early a lot those days.
He was waiting for me when I entered the house, staring out of the windows as I came up to the front door. I headed straight for the kitchen, having missed lunch, and said “Hey Dad,” as I walked past him.
My dad looked at me, arms crossed.“You’re late.”
I opened the fridge door, questing for food, but the only thing there was old takeout and expired greek yogurt. My dad stood right behind me when I shut the fridge door, takeout in hand, his posture very similar to the constant guardian that stood watch only a few feet away. The guardian’s expression was calm as he surveyed the scene, completely contrasting the look on my dad’s face.
“Wendy, we need to talk.”
“What about?” I didn’t meet his eye. Instead, I edged past him, plopping the takeout into the microwave. The buttons beeped as I put in the minutes, and the microwave hummed as my meal heated up.
“Where’s your phone?”
“In my pocket.” I scoffed. What twenty first century, first world human being didn’t carry their phone with them?
“I called you at least eight times.”
“I didn’t hear it.” And I hadn’t. “Must be dead.”
My dad’s interrogatory expression didn’t change. “Wendy, what is the matter with you? You’re home late almost every day, you’re not doing your homework, and don’t tell me you are, because taking your books home does not count as work.” He pulled out a letter from his pocket, which, judging from the address, was from my school. “Your grades are slipping and I’ve had several calls from the office saying you’ve been ditching class...I just…”
“It’s true.” I said when he couldn’t seem to finish what he started.
“It’s true.” I repeated. “Everything you’ve just said.”
“That’s not what I wanted to hear from you.”
“Did you think I’d deny it all?”
“Wendy…” he ran his hand through his hair, which was starting to take on a salt and pepper color, only recently there’s been more salt than pepper. “Please, I need you to be okay. I need you to...to…”
He took in a deep breath, pulling himself together. I stared at him, unperturbed. He wore his work suit, but his tie was crooked and his button up had an elephant’s worth of wrinkles. I loved my dad, I really did, but this man that seemed to be coming apart at the seams gave me no comfort.
“Is mom coming for dinner tonight?” I asked, catching him off guard. Mom was usually all the way across the country, as far away from my dad as divorce money could take her, but for the past few weeks she’d been staying at a nearby hotel.
He didn’t meet my gaze. “Honey, your mother only had three weeks of grievance time. Her company needed her. She left for the airport already.”
The microwave dinged. I took a fork from the sink and took my takeout, sparing a glance at the old photograph taped to our fridge of our family from ten years ago, when my mom, dad, brother and I were whole. There were new pictures next to it, one of me from the beginning of the school year, and one of my brother from before the accident. Ignoring my dad like I did the angel, I went up to my room and locked myself in.
“You know, he doesn’t know how to handle this either.” The figure that’d been following me around for three weeks sat on my window ledge. Outside the rain was pouring, already filling the streets. The bike outside was soaked, fat tears rolling down the bent handle bars. “It’s hard enough to lose a brother, imagine losing a son.”
“Shut up.” I suddenly snapped, catching even myself off-guard. With anyone else I could be indifferent, even to my own dad, but for some reason that guy was the only one that got me ticked. The only one that made me feel like I was stretching like a rubber band, the tension getting tighter and tighter until I snapped. “You don’t know how it feels.”
“Maybe I would if you would at least talk about it,” he insisted.
“What’s with you and trying to get me to express my feelings? I thought you were a guardian angel, not my therapist. What’s the point of protecting me? The only person that needed protecting is-”
My voice cut off, unable to go on. I felt a sob coming building up so I stuffed my mouth full of takeout.
His voice softened. “Your brother is in a better place now.”
“Bullshit.” I swallowed. Tears were welling in my eyes, making everything look blurry. “That’s just some stupid euphemism. His place was here. And no one stopped that truck from running into him. No one stopped him from going on a bike ride. He should be here, not you!”
Lightning flashed in the windows. I could hear my dad coming up the stairs, having heard me shout. I quickly went to lock the door before remembering I’d already locked it. I was not in the mood to talk to him.
“Wendy, look at me,” the angel said.
“Go away!” I told him. My dad heard me though, because he called out to me, and soon my doorknob was rattling.
“Look at me.” He still insisted. I could feel him getting closer. He wasn’t able to touch me, just move right through me, but his presence felt like a thousand hooks trying to turn me towards him.
“Can you just leave, please!” I said again, this time to him and my dad. I crawled under the covers of my bed, as if I were a child and if I just closed my eyes all the monsters would go away.
“Wendy!” My dad pounded on the door, “Don’t make me get the keys!”
I stayed curled on the bed, listening for his footsteps. When he left the door, meaning he actually did go to get the keys, I jumped out of bed, bounding straight for my dresser.
“What are you doing?” The stupid angel asked me as I shoved the dresser in front of the door, blocking the entrance.
“I don’t want to talk to him. I don’t want to talk to anyone. So why don’t you just float up to heaven or wherever and leave me alone.”
Before I could walk away again, he stepped right in front of me, making me stop in my tracks.
“Wendy, look at me.” He said again. “You know why I’m here.”
“I don’t want to.” I refused childishly, trying to step out of his way but he stepped back in front of me. I could have walked right through him but the thought of doing so made me shudder. I didn’t want to look at him. It was like a stab in the heart to do so.
“Just tilt your chin up, Wendy.”
“No…” My voice sounded weak even to me. Despite the fact that he had no power over me, nothing to force me, I looked up, the hooks doing their job, and my chest felt like it was ripped in two.
My brother stared down at me, his familiar features and warm love just as I remembered. My lip quivered. It hurt. It hurt a lot. Out of all the angels there had to be, I got the one that looked just like my dead brother.
“Ethan…” I quivered my brother’s name. Wiping my eyes, I choked in a breath before accusing the angel, “Why do you have to look just like him!”
“Ethan was worried about you and wanted to make sure you’d be okay. He thought you wouldn’t want to talk to anyone but him, so I took his form.”
“Well he’s an idiot!” I cried. “I want my brother, not some look alike! How are you supposed to help me in the slightest!”
There was a slam as my dad tried to open the door, causing it to slam into the dresser.
“Wendy…” he growled as he tried to shove the dresser away.
My brother’s copy looked down at me. “Ethan wouldn’t want you to fight with your dad. He’d want you to go on. He’d want you to move on and do all the things he wasn’t able to.”
I hugged my arms. “And how would you know what he wanted?”
“Because he told me.”
The door slammed again, and my dad gave a frustrated groan. “Wendy! Who are you talking to?”
I sat on the edge of my bed, arms still around me. I felt him sit next to me.
“What if I don’t want to move on? What if I’m scared?” I told him. “I don’t have my brother to protect me anymore.”
I felt an arm go around my shoulder, and though I knew it wasn’t actually there, I leaned into it, feeling compelled by the hooks drawing me close.
He said. “That’s why I’m here.”
I let go of my arms, raising one of them to put my fingers on where his would be on my shoulder. The sound of rain hitting the window pane muffled my dad’s attempt to enter my room. I blinked a tear away, letting out a breath.
“How long would you stay?”
The dresser was smacked aside. My dad entered the room, red faced and breathing heavily, and I could feel more than just the storm outside coming on, but for some reason, the presence at my shoulders made it seem bearable.
“As long as you need me to.”