And at long, long last, here it is ladies and gents. The proverbial light at the end of a very long tunnel. Enjoy :)
They didn't know it yet, but he was going to die in his early thirties. Shot outside of a bar over some small glance and the wrong attitude focused in the wrong direction. She would make it into her eighties then die, if not painlessly, then at least surrounded by family, due to complications of pneumonia.
They went on kissing each other outside of the generic Shoes Depot. Too old to really fit into the mall crowd, too young to worry about dying.
The group of young teenagers coming up behind them would have thought the same thing and would have been wrong. Two of the four, testing out their new independence with flirtatious glances and too much make up, would die in the same car accident.
The woman behind them would also see the last of her life in a car.
The man who followed her would be elderly, but alone.
I closed my eyes and leaned back into the bench, cutting off the images. They were exhausting to look at, and scary, but I couldn't seem to stop.
What I really wanted was to learn how to control it. All it took was a wandering mind while I happened to be staring absently at one of my classmates to trigger the premonition. Still, I thought that I preferred this over my old dreams. At least I knew what was coming, even if it surprised me. At least I knew why.
I opened my eyes to the bustling mall. The people I had seen earlier were gone, lost in the rush.
Soon, I would have to go home. I wasn't grounded anymore, but I still wanted to be courteous. And careful. It was hard to be around so many people when I knew how quickly one of them might turn and hurt me. I looked over my shoulder a lot. It wasn't likely to happen, but it didn't stop me from jumping at any noises in my close proximity.
Home was hard too. It was hard to walk past Dad's office and see the floor devoid of an air mattress, and worse to pretend that I'd forgotten about the discarded clothes I'd hidden in the closet. I missed my friend. I hated having to live with the lie that he'd run off, never to be heard from and hardly ever wondered about again. The official story was that he'd convinced me to run off with him, and I'd changed my mind at the last minute and come back. It didn't cast either of us in a good light.
I did still have friends here, and Eve understood, even if she didn't entirely believe me. I couldn't tell her everything, and I didn't really want to, but she knew enough about heartbreak to help me through mine. I'd even had a conversation with Chris, who, after stewing in his feelings of rejection for a little while, was genuinely sorry for hurting my feelings and was willing to listen when I told him the same. It helped to know that endings didn't always have to be so fractured.
I had the opportunity to come to the mall if I wanted, and I found myself doing it often. Mostly I just wandered, smelling the greasy food, running my fingers against the fabric of different dresses, cocooned in the sounds of footsteps and voices. I wondered how long it would take me to stop appreciating those little things and hoped it wasn't soon.
As I was deciding to move on, one voice peeled itself from the mob.
"Hey, Alli," it said with enthusiasm.
I looked around and saw Jack, the boy from my math class who'd danced with me the night of Tyler's party. I honestly couldn't remember if I'd seen him since.
My arm began to raise in an automatic wave. I slapped it back just in time. I had made sure that my sleeves were long enough to cover my wrists, even with casual movements, but I didn't want an accident. I doubted that Jack would care about the twin, black bands that crisscrossed each of my wrists, but I did. I made a point of looking at them—shameful and accusing stains on my skin—as little as possible, but I never forgot them.
"Hi," I said instead, compensating with cheerfulness.
He walked into my line of sight, leaving his co-ed group a few steps behind. "What's up?" he began to ask, but then reared back in comical surprise, eyes wide, brows in his hairline. "Whoa. Did you get contacts?"
I had to fight not to avert my newly-silvered eyes. It wasn't a new question. In fact, it was the same question my parents had asked the night I'd returned. The reaction was pretty close too, except for the anger that had compounded their worry at the sight of such a change. They had asked why too, but I hardly knew. I hadn't even known it had happened until they'd reacted.
"Yeah, do you like them?" I asked Jack casually, touching underneath my cheek to emphasize rather than hide them. It was easier that way. There was something about my gray eyes that was too perfect to be easily explained away as cosmetic and it seemed to disturb people. I wasn't lying; I had bought contacts, the costume kind in a shade that I hoped would closely resemble my hazel eyes when they sat on top of the gray. They hadn't come in yet.
"Sure," Jack said, his open face encouraging. "They're…. different."
Which really meant 'No.' That was okay. I didn't care for them much either. I missed the softness of my hazel eyes and the way they sometimes seemed to turn green in certain light. Not to mention that looking in the mirror was disconcertingly like looking at Jadin. It didn't help the heartache much.
"Anyway," Jack was saying, rushing to change topics. "We were about to go get ice cream. Want to join us?"
I looked at his group, most of whom I knew, at least by sight. They seemed bored, but welcoming enough.
I smiled in real happiness. Ice cream at the mall with peers was another of those little things I was still appreciating. "Okay. I'd like that."
"Great," Jack agreed, and led the way.
I trailed a few paces behind, respecting their hierarchy, but close enough to be included as part of the group if any of our fellow patrons cared to qualify.
One stranger cared enough to let her stare linger briefly. I only noticed her because she was wearing a summer top and sandals in the winter, showing off shapely arms and a toe-ring. She leaned against the glass of a storefront, her slick brown ponytail stopping well below her shoulders.
I stopped dead at the sight of her, instinct tingling, eyes wandering down and down her arms. My interest got her attention. We were left staring at each other across a throng of people. Our eyes were exactly the same color of dull silver. I wondered if the patterned black bands that circled both of our wrists were identical too. Maybe they were unique for each angel. And this was an angel. I knew it even though the distance made her features impossible to confirm.
I'd thought this might happen, though not for a while, not until things had settled and the Guardians knew how to handle their new titles. I'd imagined I might eventually see another angel on earth, doing their job. I was even glad, in a distant way, that they'd felt comfortable enough to start utilizing their positions right away. But I never thought I'd see another woman in my position.
The sinking in my stomach harshly reminded me of my physical form. What had my unprecedented presence in the afterlife started? What new abnormality had I left Eli and Jadin to deal with?
The woman continued to watch me while the shock ran through my system. When it was clear that I didn't have the fortitude to turn away, she gave me a disinterested wave and peeled herself away from the wall of the storefront. She began to walk away, arms swinging casually at her sides, her marks no more than thick bracelets to the casual eye. She didn't look back. If she recognized me, she didn't care. Or maybe I was simply going crazy again. I had no way to know the difference.
"Alli?" Jack called, and I turned my new, startling eyes in his direction. He was a little way off, hanging back to wait for me. "Coming?"
I looked back toward the woman, but the crowd had filled in and she'd disappeared into it. I could feel the pressure of an unanswered question burning inside of me. It sparked against that new, ugly, angry space inside of me and made it grow.
I told my body to breathe and it obeyed. Air whistled in through my nose, my lungs expanded until they ached.
I turned back to Jack when I was sure that I could manage a friendly smile.
"Yes. I'm coming."
I left the scene behind me and caught up with Jack. I moved with stuttering, reluctant steps, but I was moving forward.
Annnnd, that is that. All done :) After working for so long, and making so many promises that, yes, it will get done, it's a hard thing to wrap my head around.
This story came to me at a very busy intersection in my life. It started while I was working on Romeo, which of course needed to be finished first. Then I started college; I can still remember writing during math class, and composing chapters in my head that I never had the time to get down on paper. After college, I fell almost immediately into a teaching career. Time has seemed both very fast, and very full. What puts the biggest smile on my face is that I finally get to add the accomplishment of this completed story to all of those other life events.
As always, I want to thank all of you who have read, favorited, reviewed, followed, or in any other way shown an interest in this story. It's been posted in fits and starts, and mostly full stops. Thanks for putting up with me :) As you could probably guess, I do have the bare bones of a sequel in my head, and I hope you'll join me for that when the time is right. I want to sincerely say that it always means a lot to me to see just one follower who's listening and waiting for me to keep going, even when it got hard to move forward, and there were plenty of those times. Thank you all for the encouragement and support. I hope that you had as much fun as I did.
And now, please join me in a celebratory happy dance :D