"tell me more."
my mother used to say that all the time. on the days where I was the only voice jabbering away in our tiny yellow home, she would smile at my stories and listen closely as I told her about my adventures. her attention told me they meant the world to her, even though they were just stupid little things blown up in the world of my imagination. maybe they did mean that much to her. I liked to think so. that feeling...having someone listen to you without obvious reluctance or distractions...nothing felt quite as good as that.
I hadn't felt that burst of warmth in a long time. I hadn't felt anything, actually. not since my mother kicked me out of the only home I'd ever known. even though it itself had been cold and empty, I found the outside world much colder and far too empty of people like me. ever since then, everything had been as numb as cold steel. but right then, as I stared into that guardian's gold rimmed eyes, as my mind slipped dangerously with the swirl of the alcohol's influence, I felt something.
and it didn't sit right.
she shouldn't be listening to me. a good guardian would have walked away the moment they saw me. a better guardian wouldn't even been here? what was she doing in a deserted 7-11 hidden deep within the rotten innards of Halloway? getting an innocent slushie? spying on us? playing the hero?
either way, here she was, crouching in front of me with her round cheeks cupped in her tiny, brown fingers. a golden ring with a small purple gem flashed in the dim overhead light. she had to be around my age--maybe twenty three or a little younger--but everything about her was a contradiction. her mannerisms were childish, her eyes were ancient, and her expression...wasn't there. no anger. no confusion. no disgust. just...blank anticipation of what would happen next.
"what the hell," I murmured, eyes glued to this anomaly before me. "how...are you here? just...how?"
how could something as bright and unclouded as her even exist in this dirty corner of the world?
those awful eyes flashed, almost defiant--the first sign of any emotion. "um, I walked here? Just like you." she frowned. "although yours was probably more of a drunken stagger."
"...I would probably take offense at that if I weren't so drunk." even I winced at my pronounced slurring. just how drunk was I? the events after leaving Angela with her judgmental mother and the bus ride home were a little...blurry.
I hadn't been this drunk in a while.
"Do you have a phone?" I finally eeked out. the steady weight of her eyes made speaking--and breathing--extremely difficult. this stillness was so different when compared to the fiery woman stared down this afternoon. that woman had been fricking alive.
this one...just stared.
and frowned. she pulled out an iphone--its case also purple--from her hoodie pocket. "don't you?"
"yeah, but..." pain jolted through the back of my skull, penetrating my brain like an icy shiv. "I don't remember what I did with it. traded it for a vegetable, maybe. or more vodka. probably more vodka." considering the state of my wallet and how drunk I was, definitely more vodka.
that time, the stare came with a tinge of condescension and the tiniest bit of concern. "do you want me to call someone?" the words had a practiced ease to them, like she was used to helping random drunk strangers find their way safely home. although I wasn't exactly random. unless this awkward encounter was just yet another freak coincidence in my freak coincidence of a life.
something deep down told me it wasn't.
"my AA sponsor." the words left a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. damn it. I should've pictured Fox's disappointed scowl when I took that first burning gulp. that would have sobered me instantly. instead, the harsh chant of "you're a monster" echoed in my mind like a cadence of chains.
and now here she was, waiting to help me.
the innate nature of a guardian must be one hell of a habit.
with a sigh too heavy to be anything but reluctant, she pressed the phone into my waiting hands. "thank you," I whispered. she had no idea what it meant. she never would. thankfully, despite blurry vision and shaking fingers, I managed to punch Foxglove's number into the device. I winced at the shrill ring, not once, but twice before the phone clicked, and Fox's heavy accent filled the crackling silence. "hullo?"
"you always sound like such a dirtbag when you answer the phone. 'hullo.'" I mocked, lips curling in playful derision. across from me, Cora's golden eyes widened. shocked, probably. she'd probably never even imagined a reaper could have a normal, guy to guy conversation before. she was the dirtbag, not Fox.
was it possible for me to be getting drunker, even though I hadn't touched the bottle since she started staring so firmly in my direction?
Foxglove went silent. "Neil? is that you?"
"the one and only."
a pause. "I hate to ask this, because you're normally this bitter, but--you're not drunk, are you?" an unspoken 'again' trailed off at the end of his question. so he still picked up on my alcoholism better than either of my own parents ever had. wonderful.
"very, I answered, swallowing a very petite hiccup. "can you come save me from this grimy convience store before I start gross sobbing? I think I might get herpes from this nasty place."
"you won't get herpes, you idiot," he reassured me. I could see him so clearly in my mind--pacing around his tiny kitchen with his phone cord wrapped tight around his forearm, glancing anxiously out the window towards the pitch black windows of the Moran's apartment, chewing absently at his non-existent lower lip. "whose phone are you on? is there someone there with you?"
"yeah." my eyes flashed up to Cora. "my guardian angel."
her lips tightened but said nothing.
"can you ask them to stay with you until I can get there?"
I cocked a lazy eyebrow at her, opening a reluctant invitation. "care to babysit me a little longer?"
she rolled her eyes, as if there were obviously something better for her to do. there probably was. even so, she nodded. "it's not like there's that much for a guardian to get up to on a Friday night in Halloway."
"hence the reason you're here at a 7-11 getting a slushie." I gestured lazily to the cup resting on its side by her feet, praying to every god I knew of that Fox hadn't heard the word 'guardian' over the phone. he was probably already losing his mind. I didn't need to start a full-fledged panic.
"she'll wait," I told him as gravity's pull dragged me a little closer to the floor. the buzz was starting to become annoying, and all I wanted to was to forget all this had happened. but still...I needed to stay awake. unconsciousness was a danger I couldn't risk at this point. that had been the whole point of sobriety.
so I whispered "come save me" to Fox as softly as I could. whether I needed saving from the guardian, myself, or the darkness gathering outside, I didn't know. I never would.
after telling him which greasy hole I was hiding in, I handed the phone back to her. Cora. the guardian. the woman who was willing to wait for me, despite all my mistakes and all our differences--as drastic and as barbed as they were.
and then I uttered something I never thought I'd say to a guardian in my life time.
a sliver of a smile creased her soft, round face--and it was so fricking genuine. the realest thing I'd seen all day. I kind of wanted to keep looking at it, until the sun finally set and all light had vanished from our tiny little world. it was a smile that looked like it could last milennia.
of course, it disappeared the instant I puked all over her shoes, but the moment had been there, all the same.
and with that, the_tethered_files comes to a close. hope you all enjoyed reading these as much as I enjoyed writing them!
*none of these images are mine unless specified*