Your Guardian Angel
Natasha woke up dry and in a bed. Cracking her eyes open, she realized she was at Ben’s apartment in his bed. Looking around she saw she was in different clothes; a pair of her brother’s basketball shorts and a t-shirt. She went to sit up and fell back against the pillows, clutching her right shoulder. Pulling the collar away, she saw a large deep purple bruise covering her shoulder. Immediately the events of the previous night came back to her: Justin, the carnival, the clowns, the mysterious savior and getting away on his bike. She didn’t remember coming to Ben’s house or changing or falling asleep. Slowly, minding her shoulder, she sat up and walked out of his room. Ben was sitting on his couch, playing video games with Erik.
“Hey, how’d you sleep?” Ben asked, not looking up from the television.
“Uh, pretty good, I guess. I don’t remember much,” Natasha admitted.
“Yeah, Justin said you were wasted when he dropped you off,” Ben said, smiling.
“Uh, I wasn’t…Justin didn’t drop me off,” Natasha said, shaking her head.
“Dude in a red Ford truck? Yeah, he dropped you off. Said you’d been out drinking.”
“No, Ben. We didn’t go drinking, we—“
“Natasha. Justin dropped you off here last night saying you were wasted and he didn’t want to take you back to the house. You must’ve been pretty lit to not remember,” Ben said, finally looking away from the television to look at her. By the look on his face, Ben wanted her to go along with what he was saying. He did a quick jerk of his head in Erik’s direction and Natasha had to assume he didn’t want to talk about it in front of Erik, so she conceded.
“Yeah, I guess I was pretty lit, then,” she said just as Ben’s phone started ringing. He paused the game and picked up the phone walking from the room.
Natasha walked to the kitchen and opened Ben’s fridge. It was virtually empty except for a half-empty bottle of Gatorade, a 24-pack of Bud Light, an opened container of yogurt and a half gallon of orange juice. Opening the container of orange juice, she smelled it before determining it was okay to drink. She pulled a glass from the cabinet and filled it halfway with the drink.
“Hey, while you’re in there, will you grab me a beer, please?”
“It’s 10 o’clock in the morning,” Natasha chastised.
“You act like I care,” Erik replied.
“Since you asked so nicely,” Natasha said with a smile. She opened the refrigerator again and pulled out one of the cans. Carrying it and her glass of orange juice back to the living room, she sat down beside Erik. “You’re up early.”
“It happens rarely,” Erik replied, popping open the can and taking a long swig.
“Well Ben called me this morning saying you were here and that it’d been so long since we’d had a session. He wanted to play some, maybe write. We definitely wanted to hear you since you haven't sang with us in what feels like forever,” Erik said with a brotherly smile.
“Yeah, it has been a long time since I’ve sang with you guys. It does sound like fun,” Natasha said with a smile. She got up and went back into Ben’s room, finding her clothes on the top of his clothes basket. There may have been no food in the refrigerator, but at lease Ben washed clothes. Her jeans and shirt were completely clean again. Shutting the door, she slid out of the basketball shorts and pulled her jeans on. She glanced at the mirror on the dresser in the room and wiped away the remains of her eyeliner from the night before. She smoothed out her hair as best as she could and left Ben’s room.
Ben was off the phone by the time she came back out and the Playstation had been turned off. Now, both guys had their guitars out. Ben was sitting on the couch closest to her and Erik was in the chair on the other side. Natasha navigated her way in between them and sat, cross-legged on the couch beside Ben.
Ben started playing the first few lines of a song and Natasha laughed. Ben stopped and looked at her.
“Since when do you listen to country?”
“Well, I’ve been trying to think of songs to learn that you could sing along with and I just so happen to like The Band Perry, so kiss my ass.”
Natasha looked at his tattooed arms poking out of his t-shirt, his legs that were covered in them as well and laughed. Eventually, Erik and Ben both joined in. Once they’d died down, though, Ben started the chords over.
“Would you walk to the edge of the ocean? Just to fill my jar with sand. Just in case I get the notion to let it run through my hands... let it run through my hand. Well, I don’t want the whole world, The sun, the moon and all their light. I just wanna be the only girl you love all your life…”
Natasha got more and more into the song. They stopped a couple of times to make sure the guys got their notes right.
“That was good,” Erik said once they’d finished. “But I really hate country.”
Natasha laughed. “Then why don’t we do something that’s not country?”
“Because I learned another country song and Ben and I want to know if you know it.”
“Well then, let’s hear it.”
The first few chords started and Ben began to sing.
“You only know, what I want you to,”
Natasha picked up immediately.
“I know everything you don’t want me to,”
“Your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine,” came Ben
“You think your dreams are the same as mine,” Natasha harmonized.
“Oh, I don’t love you but I always will. Oh, I don’t love you but I always will. I don’t love you but I always will. I always will,” They sang together.
Natasha started, “I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back”
Ben started to sing, but Natasha interrupted him and they stopped playing. “This song is absolutely depressing.”
The boys both laughed at Natasha and immediately started re-tuning their guitars for something different. Before they could start up another song, Ben’s phone rang again. He ignored the curious glance of Natasha and walked into another room. Erik was still tuning his guitar, strumming a few strings.
“Who is he talking to?”
“No clue. We think it’s a girlfriend that he’s keeping secret,” Erik shrugged.
Ben came back a few minutes later and started strumming on his guitar before Natasha could ask him any questions. She immediately recognized the song and closed her eyes as Erik joined in. It was a male-sung song, but she lowered her pitch a bit to get it right.
“So this is it, I say goodbye…to this chapter of my ever-changing life. And there’s mistakes, the path is long and I’m sure I’ll answer for them when I’m gone. So when the day comes and the sun won’t touch my face…tell the ones who cared enough that I’ve finally left this place that’s been so cold… Look at my face…all the stories it will tell I can’t erase. The road is long, just one more song. A little something to remind you when I’m gone… When I’m gone.”
Natasha lost herself in the guitars, closing her eyes.
“The road to hell, along the way, is paved with good intentions so they say and some believe that no good deed goes unpunished in the end or so it seemed. So when the day comes and the sun won’t touch my face tell the ones that care enough that I’ve finally left this place that’s been so cold..”
They were interrupted by the doorbell chiming. Natasha stood up, but Ben told her to sit back down as he walked to the door. She followed him with her eyes and she couldn’t see who was behind the door, but she caught the look Ben threw in her direction and stepped outside, pulling the door shut behind him. Erik had turned the Playstation back on and was entranced in it so Natasha was able to go to the window to see Ben talking to a female in the middle of the sidewalk. Behind them, a Ford Mustang sat on the edge of the street, a guy was leaning against it. Ben and the female weren’t yelling at each other and it seemed like they were talking about something important. Obviously, with another male there, it wasn’t his girlfriend and the only thing Natasha’s mind went to was drugs. Then she focused on the guy leaning against the car. It was him. The guy who’d saved her last night. As soon as she recognized him, she walked to the front door, pulling it open.
Both the female and Ben were startled as she pulled the door open. They looked back at her but Natasha was focused on the male.
The guy visibly started and ripped off his sunglasses. He seemed almost afraid of her, but she knew he wasn’t. As she moved closer to him, he pulled away from the car.
“You can see me?” he asked, completely surprised.
“Uh, yeah, I can. I need to talk to you,” Natasha said, nearly feet from him.
That was as close as she got. He moved away from the car to the other side and disappeared into the driver’s seat, shutting the door. Natasha wasn’t deterred, however. Before he could lock the doors, she pulled open the passenger seat and slid in beside him.
“You’ve got some nerve, asshole.”
“You’re being rude,” he quipped back.
“I’m being rude?! First you won’t tell me your name, and now you’re trying to avoid me.”
“You shouldn’t even be able to see me. This is not supposed to be happening. You weren’t supposed to go anywhere near that damn carnival and you weren’t still supposed to be here.”
“You wanna give me some answers? Why wasn’t I supposed to be at the carnival? Why wasn’t I supposed to be here? This is my brother’s house and this is where you dropped me off last night. What are you part of some gang? What the hell do you think you’re doing with Ben? The last thing he needs is some type of gang,” Natasha said, getting more and more angry.
“Yeah. I’m in a gang. We’ll go with that,” the guy said. He heard Natasha inhale angrily and knew it was only going to get worse from there. She wouldn’t let up until she had some answers. “Ben isn’t in a gang. He’s fine. He’s just… helping with something. You wanna know what all this is about?” at her nod, he looked through the passenger window to see the female heading towards the car and he continued, “Then meet me at Onyx tonight at ten. Bring Ben with you.”
When the female opened up the passenger door, Natasha realized the conversation was over. She got out, ignoring the look of the female and walked back to Ben’s side. Turning, she watched as they drove out of sight.
“Don’t say anything until Erik is gone,” Ben said angrily.
Natasha watched, confused, as he turned and walked back into the house. She finally followed him into the apartment, closing the door behind her.
“You’re pushing it, don’t you think?” the Asian female said to her partner as they pulled away from the curb.
“She wasn’t supposed to see me. I don’t understand,” he replied, hitting the steering wheel.
“You just better watch out. You’re under constant surveillance.”
Erik didn’t leave until hours later. By “talk”, Natasha had thought Ben was going to explain to her what was going on outside, but he’d only said “Don’t ever jump into cars with people you don’t know” and walked into his room. An hour later he emerged, saying he was going to take her home. Natasha didn’t understand his behavior; Ben had never acted like this towards her. On the way to her house, she’d asked him if he would want to go to Onyx with her and he said no. He claimed he had something to do that night and she dropped it, staying silent the rest of the way home.
That night, she got dressed and left. Her parents had left a note saying they were going to be gone for the rest of the weekend and wouldn’t be home until Monday evening; some retreat for her dad’s work. She’d tried calling Callie, but she couldn’t leave. There was no one else she trusted to go with her. Dressed in a long-sleeved blue shirt, shorts, and flip flops she walked along 14th Street towards the club.
Once she was seated inside, she ordered a drink and waited. People came and went, but not him. After an hour, he didn’t show. She waited thirty more minutes, and three drinks later…still nothing. She paid for her drinks and stood up to leave. It was almost midnight and he wasn’t there. She looked around one last time and walked out of the club.
She cut down the alley she and Callie took all the time to get to the parking garage. The only sounds she heard were her flip flops thwacking against the pavement and the cars from traffic. She was almost to the end of the alley when she was grabbed from behind. She screamed and sent her elbow into their stomach. The arms immediately released their hold and she ran for it, not looking back. Reaching the entrance of the alleyway, she found it blocked.
“Why are you so prone to trouble?!” he growled before pushing her behind him before facing the guy who attacked her.
Natasha heard bone connect with bone and she assumed someone got punched. She cringed but didn’t look. Suddenly, thunder rumbled ahead and her gaze was brought upward. She knew Georgia had random storms, but when she’d watched the news earlier, they hadn’t said anything about a thunderstorm tonight. It was supposed to be real warm and clear. Of course, May was coming up and that meant more random thunderstorms, but this was a little too random.
“C’mon, let’s get you the hell out of here,” she heard and looked back down from the sky. The guy that had attacked her was lying on the ground clutching a jaw. She could see blood covering his face. “Where’s your car?”
“I-It’s in the garage… on the fourth level,” she said running to catch up with him. “You’re late.”
“Yeah, sue me. I had some things to take care of. Why isn’t anyone with you? I specifically told you to bring Ben with you.”
“He said he was busy. Everyone I asked was busy.”
She just looked at him while they took the stairs to the fourth level.
“Why couldn’t we take the elevator?” she asked, almost sounding childish.
“Because on elevators, you don’t know who’s going to be there when you get out. On the stairs, I can see if anyone is on the row above us or below us.”
Reaching the fourth level, he leaned across her and pulled her keys out of her pocket.
“Hey! There’s no way in hell I’m letting you drive. Give me my keys back!”
“I’m not going to crash your car,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“I don’t know that. I don’t know you,” she replied sharply.
“If you get in, I’ll explain.”
She opened the passenger door and slid in, pulling the door shut. Before she could reach for her seatbelt, he was already backing out of the spot and pulling out.
“You wanna explain?” she asked as she finally buckled herself in. She watched as he watched her from the corner of his eye, smirking as she buckled her seat belt.
“Not particularly, but I guess you need to know.”
“Let’s start with why you’re following me around,” she tried. She’d asked him twice before who he was and he wasn’t answering that question so she asked something different.
“It’s my job,” he said, only.
She thought of other questions to ask him as she looked at the scenery of downtown Atlanta. Soon, they were on the highway, taking the exit towards Birmingham and towards her house. After they took the exit towards Douglasville, it hit her that he shouldn’t know where she lived.
“How do you know where you’re going?”
“I just do,” he said cryptically.
Natasha was getting pissed off. He saved her twice now, but wouldn’t tell her his name. He knew where she lived and wouldn’t give her any answers.
“Okay, look. I’m tired of this charade. As soon as we get out of the car, I want you gone. I don’t ever want to see you again. I don’t want your help with anything else. While I do appreciate you helping me in those situations, I’m tired of the evasiveness I’m getting from you. I don’t like it.”
Natasha watched as a muscle ticked in his jaw and she could tell he was struggling with something internal. She didn’t care; it needed to be said.
“My name is Caleb,” he said so quietly she almost missed it.
While it was a start, Natasha was still mad he wouldn’t give anything else up. When they pulled up in front of her house, she immediately opened the door and walked to the driver’s side, holding her hand out for her keys. He sighed but handed them to her, his head down. Immediately, she pressed the ‘Lock’ button on the remote and turned away from him. She was almost to do the door when he touched her elbow. She whirled around and came face to face to him. Well, she was face to face with his Orthodox Cross necklace. She glanced up to find ice blue eyes looking down at her.
“Your life is in danger and I’m going to protect you.”
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