"In The Beginning"
A Guardians Short Story
The world is dark, shadowed in grays. There's a soft murmuring, a muted glow of light slivering beneath her bedroom door. I search the realm around me, just to be certain, but only Genesis and I remain. We're alone. And so I close my eyes and pull myself into her world. A world where everything is brighter. Clearer. A world that, for some reason, makes sense to me, though it shouldn't.
"I just don't understand why every time you have to do something at the club I can't go."
I move closer to the door, listening as she speaks into the phone.
"It's not?" she counters. "You do stuff at the club all the time, and not once have I ever been invited. It doesn't matter if it's a . . . a dinner, or cocktails, or a cookout. It could be a freakin' charity event for God's sake, and you've never, not once, invited me."
I cringe at the waver in her voice, the ache resonating behind the words, each one brimming with a deep, unspoken injury. And I wonder what he's done this time. What did he choose over her?
"Then why can't I go? If you miss me so much, let me keep you company. Let me decide if it's boring and a waste of time."
I grasp the doorknob, turning it easily, pulled by an inexplicable urge to see her. It's not enough to hear her voice, to follow her shadow. Not anymore.
I ease the door open, the tiniest of slits. She's sprawled across the bed in her sparsely decorated room, fingering the plastic coils on her ancient telephone. My heart fumbles a beat at the sight of her. It's strange, this world where everything is heightened. Magnified. The sounds and sights and smells. Every pang of envy. Worry. Each wave of curiosity. Swell of pleasure.
"No," she says, voice so low I can barely hear it. "It's fine. Maybe next time."
Beyond the murky, brackish waves, South Marshall is comatose. Row upon row of colorful beach houses are boarded up. Winterized. Plywood left on the windows from the last hurricane at the end of September. Parking lots are empty. Businesses are CLOSED FOR THE SEASON. This is my home.
I'm a Guardian. Genesis is my responsibility. It's my job to look out for her. To keep her safe. She can't see me, but she can feel me. And sometimes . . . sometimes it's like she knows. The warm breeze brushing her skin. The sun on her face. The peace that washes over her after conversations like this one. . . .
She hangs up the phone, lets out a massive sigh, and reaches for a new pack of cigarettes. She rips off the plastic and beats the flimsy, cardboard package against her wrist. It takes several flicks of her lighter before the flame catches. One long exhale and she moves to the window, lifting the sash. An arctic draft rushes inside, picking up the smoke and hauling it away.
She sits on the floor beneath it. Inhales. Her sweatshirt is tattered, sleeves fraying at the edges. Her jeans are worn, faded at the knees. Her black nail polish is chipped, and there's a cheap, silver beach ring on each of her thin fingers. Her hair is both black and blonde. Blonde at the roots, midnight black from her chin to the tips, like she decided to grow it out but didn't care enough to re-dye it. And then there's the eyebrow piercing. The one she got to spite her mother for moving her to a new town. Again.
She drags her fingers through her hair, tucking it behind her ears, then closes her sad green eyes, shivering in the cold.
My jaw smarts, tightening, and I fight the impulse to take her in my arms. To hold her.
It just about kills me.
* * *
Carter moves through the house as a silhouette. James, his Guardian, is behind him, a faint glow radiating from him in waves. We all shine like this. In our world, it's the only real way to tell the good from the evil. And even then there are no guarantees.
Carter opens the door to Genesis's room, and I follow him inside.
"Leave them alone, Seth," James begs. His accent is thick. Something European, though I've never bothered to ask where he's from.
"You're only making it worse, you know," he continues. "She has free will."
I ignore him, focusing instead on the other voices in the room.
"It's just a party," Carter says, sitting down on the edge of her bed.
"It's dinner with your parents, and then a party," she replies. "And trust me. The party is the last thing I'm worried about."
"My parents love you," he assures her.
"You're just saying that."
I concentrate on her shadow. Her movements. She's putting on more makeup. Mascara, maybe. I tip my head, trying to get a better view, fists tightening with frustration. I hate that she's veiled like this.
Carter falls back on her bed. "You know, one day you're going to stop worrying so much about what other people think."
She shakes her mascara wand at his reflection. "And that—right there—is how I know they don't like me. If they liked me you wouldn't be reminding me that I shouldn't care what anyone thinks."
"We aren't getting into this tonight, Gee," he says, sitting up. "Dinner. Party at Jason's. It'll be fun."
"Whatever," she mutters, fingering her eyebrow piercing.
Where there's usually a slow, simmering anger, there's now a deep concern.
"She thinks she should take it out," I whisper.
"It doesn't matter," James replies. "The Flemings like her with or without it."
"The Flemings," I mutter. The name feels like acid on my tongue. The Flemings are more than wealthy. They own this town. Vacations, cars—whatever Carter asks for, he receives. Like it's nothing. Like his own girlfriend isn't struggling to help her mom make rent every month. Somewhere along the way, that father of his made a deal with the devil. Carter is just like him.
"He really does love her," James says. "Despite what you may think or feel about him, he wants what's best for her."
"He's eighteen. He doesn't know what's best for anyone."
"Seth," he says, voice lower, "You must stop this."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"You're too close. She's your charge."
Genesis takes a deep breath, and the concern is replaced with resolve.
No. The piercing stays.
"I just need to find something to wear." She zips her plastic makeup bag and tosses it in the top drawer of her stolen from the dumpster dresser.
"What's wrong with what you have on?" Carter asks. He grabs her arm, pulling her onto his lap. "I think you look sexy." He kisses her softly just above the jaw line.
Her heart flutters.
A prickle of jealousy creeps across my skin. "You have no idea how he makes her feel."
"It's her own doing, then. He loves her. Let them be."
"She is so much better than he is," I whisper, watching them.
"Carter can give her anything she could ever want or need," James declares. "He's a good guy. She could do much worse."
"She would never have to pretend with me."
"Do you hear what you're saying?" he hisses. "It's irrelevant, Seth. Their relationship is none of our business."
"She is my business."
"This is unacceptable. And dangerous. You're too involved. If The Council thinks . . ."
"I'm not worried about The Council," I interrupt, watching her move in the darkness. "I don't care what they think. I don't care what anyone thinks."
* * *
Carter's house is Mediterranean style, with a circular driveway and palm trees lining the entrance. Everything is bright and lustrous, shining like midday.
She's nervous. I feel it as she climbs the steps leading to the massive wooden doors.
"We're here!" Carter calls. His voice reverberates, echoing through the foyer. Genesis follows, pausing long enough to take in her reflection in an oversized mirror at the entryway.
It washes over me again, consuming. That feeling. That she will never be enough for these people. For Carter. For anyone. That she's undeserving. Unworthy. Exposed.
I move closer, wanting to comfort her—to do something. I softly touch the shadow of her hair, imagining what it would feel like in her world. The real world.
When will you realize you deserve beautiful things?
"You coming?" Carter asks from the other end of the long hallway.
"Yeah. Yeah, I am." She quickly unhooks the bar in her eyebrow, then slips it inside the pocket of her jeans.
* * *
"You didn't even try to stand up for me, Carter."
James slants a critical look my way, as if I'm to blame for the sudden switch in atmosphere.
Genesis flicks her spent cigarette out the window.
"There was nothing to stand up to," he argues. "If my parents didn't like you they wouldn't have invited you to dinner."
They're on the verge of yelling, voices raised. We hear them clearly.
"Are you being serious right now? Your dad grilled me about college. Your mom hated my shirt . . ."
"Genesis, my dad grills everyone about college. And my mom never said she hated your shirt," he interrupts.
"She said I wore it too much!"
"She said that she thought you wore it the last time she saw you!" His voice echoes through the cab of the SUV, thick with anger.
She's on the verge of tears. Wracked with embarrassment. The effort she made trying to impress them—for nothing. The tears make her angrier. They make me angrier.
"So what? I don't understand what your problem is!" He presses his foot deeper into the accelerator, focusing on the road as he passes the car ahead of him.
He shouldn't be this out of control. Not behind a wheel. Not with her in the car. "Calm him down!" I demand.
"He's fine," James assures me.
"It's what she implied." Genesis roots around the depths of her purse, digging for a new pack of cigarettes to satisfy a need. A craving. She lights it, inhales, but it doesn't have the desired effect. "Forget it. You wouldn't understand."
"You're right. I don't understand what you think my mom implied by saying she'd seen your shirt before. Whatever it is, I'm sure it's stupid."
"Because my feelings are stupid. I guess I'm not rich enough to have feelings. Maybe if I had a pool in my backyard you'd understand me better."
"Where do you get this shit from?"
"You can let your mom know that we just can pay our rent this month, so if she plans on having me over for dinner anytime soon, then she'll probably see this shirt again. She'll have to forgive me, because it's the nicest thing I own."
"That's not what she meant," Carter says. "She remembered that you liked it. That's all."
He stretches his arm across the cab, stroking the bare skin of her neck with his thumb. She shrugs away from him, recoiling at the touch. "None of you get it. I'm not like you. Every penny I make goes to help my mom pay the bills. I've got no money for college. I have one nice shirt to wear. Sucks to be me tonight, since everyone at this party probably remembers it from the last party we went to."
"I'm sorry," he says, voice softer. I struggle to make out the words. "You're right. Sometimes I forget."
"You forget what? That I'm not a trust fund brat like you and the rest of your friends?"
I flinch at the words, at this change in personality. That temper of hers. It's going to land her in so much trouble.
James frowns at me. "Maybe you should calm her down."
"She has every right to be angry," I say, defending her.
"Or maybe you want her to be angry."
"You don't understand. All she wants is to be like him. Like them. She can never be what he wants her to be."
"He doesn't want her to be anyone but who she is."
"She doesn't believe that."
"Then make her believe," he insists.
"She has free will, remember?" I remind him.
"Is that what this is about?" Carter and Genesis continue to argue. "You're still jealous over spring break?"
"I'm not jealous. I'm angry," Genesis replies. "I'm angry because no matter what I do I'm never going to be good enough, and you're never gonna understand."
My spine stiffens. Part of me can't believe she finally said it. Out loud. Of course she's good enough for him. I wait for him to utter the words. To reassure her.
But instead: "So what if I don't understand you all the time? You're not exactly the easiest person in the world to read. I shouldn't have to apologize for that."
Genesis turns up the volume on the radio, drowning him out with a guitar solo. Carter drives in silent anger, fuming, hands gripping the steering wheel. She gazes out the window, the flat scenery blurring past. After a few, tense moments, she leans forward again, turning the radio back down.
"I don't think we should see each other anymore," she finally says. "You should take me home."
My ears perk up at this.
She exhales a long sigh, and I let myself believe that this sigh is of relief. That she's finally found the courage to do what she should have done months ago. "Carter, we are two completely different people. It's not going to work. It can't. It's a miracle we held on this long, actually."
His voice softens. I can barely distinguish the words. "Yeah, we're different people, Gee, but that's what makes us so great. That's what makes you great."
You have nothing in common.
"We have nothing in common," she says.
"Stop it, Seth! You cannot interfere like this!" James says, voice accusing.
"I'm not interfering! It was her idea!"
She couldn't have picked that up from me. Could she?
"Okay. So maybe dinner with my parents was a bad idea," Carter says. "What if we bail on this party and rent a movie or something? We can do something else. Anything. Just name it."
Don't do it, Genesis, I silently beg. Don't give in to him. Let this be the end.
"She's not yours," James reminds me. "She doesn't belong to you. She breaks up with Carter, and she's just going to find someone else."
As I open my mouth to protest, a line of panic slices through my veins.
"Carter! Look out!"
A dark shadow crosses the beam of the headlights. The entire world stops turning. Frozen. Everything is silent except for the pounding of our hearts, in tandem, one suspended beat after another. Seconds pass as minutes, and we hold our collective breath as Carter slams on the brakes. He swerves, yanks the steering wheel in the opposite direction. The force sends Genesis crashing into the door.
A sickening crack as her head strikes the window.
No! No! No!
A flood of pain surges through my body as we begin to roll. I fasten my arms around her from behind, clasping my wrists, locking her in the seat while the SUV flips over and over and over again.
Everything spins wildly out of control. And then. . . .
It takes a second for me to realize we're upside down. I feel her heart beating, hear her struggling, grappling for every breath. I release her and slip to the front, but, before I can free her, she unlatches the seatbelt and topples to the ceiling. A sharp pain shoots through my arm.
She whimpers, drawing it close.
"Genesis?" It's Carter. "Shit. Genesis? Are you okay?"
She swallows back a sob, pushing against the door with her good hand. I push with her. It's jammed. She's trapped. Fear inches to my throat, suffocating me.
Never show yourself unless you have to. One of the rules.
James watches me closely, face grim, and I try not to imagine what he's thinking. But then he nods.
In a blink I'm outside—in her world—a cold chill rippling down my spine. The SUV is crushed. Totaled. And I stare at it for a moment, wondering how anyone could possibly walk away from this. The smell of oil and smoldering rubber assaults my nose. My eyes burn, watering. I wipe them clear with the cuff of my sleeve.
It's okay. It'll be okay.
But I don't know who I'm trying to convince more: me or her. I try to force a calm. To make the panic go away. I'm losing my edge, though, because it doesn't work, and I don't know if it's because her will is too strong or I'm too weak.
Genesis pushes and I pull as hard as I can, teeth clenching as I concentrate everything into getting her out of this mess.
When the door finally opens she crawls out, feeling her head. She struggles to breathe—these short, raspy breaths that make my own lungs flame. She inches toward the pavement while I search the world around us, chest heaving. The street. The woods. For anything hiding in the shadows.
She clutches her arm to her stomach, curling into a tiny ball, pressing her face against the asphalt, resigned.
This is what it feels like to die.
I hear the thought as if it's my own.
I rush toward her.
No! Genesis? Don't give up on me!
I kneel beside her, breath turning to smoke in the frigid, midnight air. And for the first time I can see her. I can really see her. The crinkle of her forehead. The curve of her eyebrows. Her pale face. Blood-streaked hair and flawless lips. The traces of a sleep-deprived violet shading the skin beneath her closed eyes. The tears lingering, beading along her lashes. Her haunting beauty.
I swallow hard.
This is my fault. This is what James warned me about—getting too close. This is my punishment.
My heart punches my ribs. I swipe away the wetness on my cheeks with the back of my hand, eyes stinging.
I won't lose her like this. They won't take her away from me.
Another blink and I'm back in my realm, searching the shadows. But there's no one else. James is with Carter—still inside the SUV—and there are no other Guardians around. No Messengers. No Angel of Death.
I exhale relief, and, in a moment, I'm with Genesis again, crouching beside her.
I know I should be gone by now. Help, then leave. Another rule I'm breaking.
"It's okay," I whisper, not wanting to startle her. "Help is coming."
I must imagine her mouth twitching, her lips pulling into a smile, but I feel her returning to me, as if drawn to the sound of my voice.
I brush the length of her jaw line, touching her soft skin, sweeping the tears away.
"Don't move, okay?"
Her eyes struggle to open.
I wrap her fingers in mine, holding her tightly, desperate to keep her with me.
"You're going to be fine, Genesis. I promise." My voice wavers, the words breaking in my throat.
Her features relax, smoothing, and a perfect stillness settles between us—a peace—as my hand clings to hers.
She believes. She trusts me.
I swallow back a surprised laugh, strung tight—high on what might be adrenaline. I'm not sure, because Guardians aren't allowed moments like these. It won't last, and it will never happen again. And so, knowing this, I carefully bring her hand to my mouth, breathe her in, and kiss her fingers, lips touching her for the first time. And it's this simple act—the vain hope of what could be—holding her hand as she sleeps quietly on the pavement, that stretches into eternity, stealing my soul.
It becomes my past. My present. My future.
And Genesis becomes my forever.