Chapter 3:


Angel on Earth

For the rest of the evening, she is strongly, almost uncomfortably aware of my presence. It's nice to be acknowledged every so often, to have someone see me, but more often that not, the constant awareness puts me on edge. How do people do it, being seen all the time?  How do they stand it?

"You're staring," I say during dinner. She's eating dinner at the table with her mother, father, and brother, while I hang around the fridge. "You look suspicious."

"Sorry," she says instinctively, and the whole table turns to look at her. 

"Now you've done it," I say, at the same time that her father asks, "Sorry for what, Elise?"

"Nothing, misspoke," she says, and stabs at her food with her fork. It's weird, but I've noticed that she doesn't use a knife. When she needs to tear something apart, she uses two forks put together.

Her father then asks her to tell him about her day, something that they seem to do every day. Elise usually doesn't have much to say, which makes me wonder why they keep asking her at all. After the third day in a row of hearing "I went to school and listened to music and watched some TV," I would consider it a lost cause.

Elise glances at me, and I raise my eyebrows. "What are you going to do, tell him?" I ask, leaning against the wall. 

"I went to school," she starts slowly, deliberately. "Hmmm, our math test is next week, so our teacher was reviewing that for a while. I had tuna and rice for lunch with the leftover vegetables from yesterday. I listened to a new band that I found online. It was good. And..." She trails off, looking at me again, but only for a second. "That's it."

"What about going to the roof?" I ask, but she ignores me, as expected.

"That sounds fun," her mother says politely. "Cal, how was your day?"

I pace around the room as her brother talks about his band practice, stopping right next to Elise.

"That looks good," I say, pointing to her food, which is half untouched.

"You're getting real bold," she hisses under her breath, so only I can hear it.

"I'm not used to being seen," I say. "It's weird, but I think I like it. It makes meals more interesting."

"Glad I could provide some entertainment." This she says slightly too loudly, and her mother turns to her.

"Did you say something?" she asks, and Elise shakes her head.

"No, I was just clearing my throat," she replies, not looking at me this time. She turns her attention towards her plate, finishing every last bit of food on it, then carries it to the sink. "Can I be excused? I want to start studying for my test."

Her father excuses her, and she walks off towards her room, waiting for me to follow before closing the door.

"You have to stop talking to me while I'm with my family," she says, sitting back down on her bed. "My whole family's gonna think I'm crazy at this rate,"

"In my defense, you were staring first," I say. "But you're right, I'm sorry." I was the one who said earlier that we shouldn't talk around her family. My bad. 

"No biggie," she says, and pulls out her phone. "First order of business: you still don't have a name."

"You're still on that?" I had forgotten about it over the course of the meal. "How do people usually pick names?"

"Well, most names have meanings, so you should find a name that has a meaning you feel connects to you," she says, handing me her phone. "I pulled up a baby names website. See if you find something you like there."

I scroll for a while, clicking on names at random to find their meanings.

"How many names are on this list?" I ask listlessly.

"Like a thousand, and that's just the most common ones. They also have different websites for weird and obscure baby names if you're into that kind of thing."

"Maybe I should just be named Spot after all," I say, tossing her phone back to her.

"Don't be lazy," she says, which is ironic given that she is the queen of laziness. "I'll find you a good one, for real this time." Her forehead wrinkles, and she starts typing again, scrolling for a while before exclaiming, "Found one!"

I lean over her shoulder, examining the name she picked. "Tartys? what does that one mean?"

"I have no idea," she says, shrugging. "i found it on an angel name generator."

"Angels don't even have names," i mutter. "We have numbers."

"Whatever. Do you like the name or not?"

I sound it out in my mouth, feel out the syllables with my tongue. "It's weird," I say, "but not bad. I think it's good."

"Good," she says triumphantly, shutting off her phone. "That's settled. Welcome to the human world."

"It's a better welcome than I got when i first landed," I say.

"Why's that?" she asks.

"Well, the first time around, I didn't have anyone to welcome me. I entered the passage to earth, passed out, and when I woke up, I was on your steps."

"How did you know who you were supposed to follow?"

"You were shown to me for a few days before i descended, so I would know what to expect."

"If you didn't like what you saw, would you be able to pick someone else to guard?" She looks away from me, just over my shoulder.

"No, I was created to watch over you. there was no choice in the matter," I say matter-of-factly. "I didn't see anything wrong with you during those days, if that's what you're asking."

"I don't care either way," she says, but her shoulders relax minutely, so I know it's a lie. "By the way, how are you supposed to do your job of protecting me again? Are you super strong, or can you make people disappear or something like that?"

"I... no," I say, feeling up my arm. As far as I can tell, my muscles are average size. "I can heal you if you get hurt, and I can't be hurt myself, which helps me defend you."

"So you're basically like a person," she sighs. "Lame."

I bristle. "I'm an invincible being. Don't you humans have shows about people like that?" In the shows, at least, the invincible characters get respect.

"Yeah, but those people are awesome crime fighters. You're just a mythical stalker."

"When will you drop the stalker thing?"

"When you stop following me around."

"So... never?"

"Exactly." She takes out her headphones, and I expect her to put them in, but instead she holds one out to me. "Want to listen?"

I take the offered earbud, shoving it into my ear until it stays in place. The positioning is too awkward with me standing, so I sit beside her on the bed, leaving a foot of space between us.

"Tell me if you want me to change the song," she says, and opens a playlist titled "Songs To Get Lost In." She presses the first song, and within the first few notes, my mind opens.

I can't say that heaven is completely silent. There are other angels around, I'm sure, and of course my teacher is up there, but there's no music. It's one thing to catch snatches of it while she listens, and quite another to actually listen to it myself. I guess this is why she does it so often, I think hazily. it's incredible.

When the song finishes, she looks over to me. "How was it?" she asks.

"It was great," I say. "Can you play another?"

She laughs. "Since you're asking so nicely." She plays a different song, and this one has a solid beat, makes my feet bounce and my fingers tap. Again, the music surrounds me like a fog, like I can breathe it in through the air.

"Well?" she asks, and I nod.

"I liked that one too."

"That's because i have great taste," she says, and her ears turn a pleased red. "It's even better when you have both earbuds in. Maybe later I'll let you listen by yourself."

We sit there for half an hour, listening to music that she picks. Occasionally she'll skip a song, clicking her tongue in irritation, but most of the time she lets the music play through, and it seeps through my skin, down to my light within.

"You're glowing," she says at one point, and I look down to find my god's light seeping around the covering, making my shirt light up.

"Oh," I say. "That's weird."

"You're not dying, are you?" she jokes. "That would be funny. You're not allergic to apples, but you're allergic to music."

"Yeah, hilarious," I deadpan. "My god's light must be responding to the music. I think it just means that I'm really happy."

Elise snorts, looking away. "You're so embarrassing," she says, pressing a hand to her forehead. "You say the weirdest things."

"I don't," I say, frowning. "And no one else can hear me except for you, so what does it matter?"

"I guess it doesn't," she says after a moment. "It's fine, it's not really that bad. I'm just not used to people being so open about their emotions."

"I'm not a person," I clarify, and she snorts again.

"That's right, you're not. you're not bound by social conventions." She checks the time. "Damn, I actually have to start doing my homework now. Here, I'll leave the headphones with you to keep you company."

"Thank you," I say, accepting the phone and headphones from her. She already has a playlist queued up for me, and I press play, leaning back on her bed. I should ask permission, but she didn't say anything when I sat beside her before, so it should be fine. In the meantime, she sits down on her floor, spreading out her papers around her like she's building a nest.

A few songs later, I feel a tapping on my foot, and I open my eyes to find Elise looking up at me. I pause the music, mourning the loss of the symphony.

"Do you know anything about English grammar?" she asks, and I look over at her worksheet, half filled out.

"I'm not a homework helper, you know," I say, even as I join her on the floor. "This doesn't count as danger."

"Can't you protect me from failing this class?" she asks, blinking innocently.

"I don't even know if I can do that." I squint at her work, shaking my head. "Your guess is as good as mine."

She huffs, taking her sheet back. "I'm disappointed," she says, turning her back on me. "Give me back my phone, I'm going to look this up."

I clutch her phone protectively. "What about the music?"

She stares at me, then clicks her tongue. "What have I done?" she says to herself, looking up at the ceiling. "He used to be so nice and unassuming. And now he has a crippling music addiction. I ruined him. Gods up in heaven, please forgive me."

"Stop talking about my like I'm not here," I gripe. "And the gods don't care if I listen to music or not." I think.

Swiftly, she unplugs the headphones, leaving me with two noiseless earbuds. "This'll only take a second," she says, fingernails clicking on the screen. "Then you can go back to your precious music."

"Don't act like I'm the child here," I say. "You're the one who's using the phone to cheat on your homework."

"I'm getting guidance! It's not like you're any help."

"I'm not your teacher!"

"You're much less useful!"

There's a knock on her door, and we both jump.

"Elise, who are you yelling at?" her brother asks, opening the door. "I can hear you through the walls. You're echoing throughout the whole house."

"Sorry," she says, and glares in my general direction. "I was on the phone."

"With who?"

"My friend from school. We were arguing about... the homework."

"Which friend? You don't have any." Even I wince at how blunt he is. It must be genetic.

"I do, and it's none of your business," Elise says, sticking out her tongue. "Now get out of my room, I need to do my homework."

"Like you ever do your homework," her brother says, sticking out his own tongue, but he closes the door behind him.

We sit in silence for a moment before I say, "Peace treaty?" 

"Sure," Elise says tiredly. "Peace treaty." She holds out her hand, and I shake it as officially as I can. "I'm sorry for calling you useless."

I don't remember her saying it in those words, but I say, "It's fine. And I'm sorry for hogging your phone."

"It's alright," she says. "If I just heard music for the first time, I wouldn't want to stop either." She returns to her homework, and I hear her humming something. It's not the same as listening to the actual music - her notes are quicker together, she doesn't have the same range as the instruments - but I close my eyes and listen anyway. It feels more... familiar. Less like an overpowering cloud and more like a warm blanket.

"I like your voice," I say, and I hear her pause in her scribbling.

"I'm not a good singer," she says, almost like an accusation.

"I never said you were. I just enjoy your voice." Maybe her bluntness is contagious. 

"You have such a way with words," she says dryly, but continues to hum after a moment. Maybe one day I'll know her well enough to join in.

Joe Gold

Angel on Earth