He stepped out onto the flagstone patio and descended the sweeping three-foot staircase he'd climbed for the first time when he was twelve years old after wings had suddenly sprouted from his shoulders when he was arguing with his mother. She decided then was a good time to explain to him that he was an angel.
Cool, salty air ruffled Alex's short hair slightly as he made his way back the car he'd driven to the meeting, happy that he no longer had to depend on his mother for a ride to and from the mandatory check-ins to talk about his behavior as an angel.
The ocean was off to his left and the sun was just dipping below the horizon, staining the gently rippling waves a startling yellow-orange and he looked up to the clouds painted in shades of purple and red.
"The sunsets are better in September." He thought to himself as he pulled his jacket tighter in front of him, even though it couldn't have been below fifty-five or sixty degrees. It was January and the ocean air was always cool, but the benefit of living in San Diego was that even at sunset in winter, the weather was far from what anyone could call cold.
He took a deep breath of the fresh air and slowed to a stroll along the beach avenue, the anger he felt toward his Keeper ebbing away as his hot skin cooled off, when he heard a shaking voice say
"Hey, I uh… agh!"
There was a gap between two of the buildings up ahead and Alex rolled his eyes. He knew that sound. It was the sound of a weaker individual being cornered by at least one stronger person.
"Sucks to be him." Alex thought to himself, turning to step off the curb and cross to the other side of the street so he wouldn't have to be implicated in the fight, but when his foot touched down on the asphalt he thought back to the Keeper's words about his bullying behavior. After all, there was a reason he recognized the tremor in the voice, the exclamation, the sharp inhale and exhale of breath around a shirt collar pulled up across a throat. He sighed and stepped back up onto the curb, heading for the small alley between the beach shops.
Sure enough, a teenage boy, maybe fifteen years old was surrounded by three boys all a good six inches taller than him. The one in the center had his fists twisted in the scrawny kid's T-shirt while the other two flanked him threateningly.
The trapped boy's breath was a clearly panicked rush. If he didn't start to calm down, he'd hyperventilate soon. The crony on the leader's right moved back and Alex caught his first look at the face of the antagonized individual. He was starting to regret his decision to come back and help. The boy was one he himself had cornered and intimidated once. This was going to be just great.
"Hey!" He called out sharply and the four boys turned in his direction.
"Hey Dresner! Wanna join in on this one?"
"No, I want you guys to leave him alone and get lost."
"Oh ho, look who's a hero all of a sudden. What happened to you?"
"Hey, I'm not like you guys, okay? I don't get rocks off beating up weaker kids." Alex deliberately avoided the eyes of the kid who was still being held by his shirt, because he knew that he'd be met with accusing eyes.
"You think you're better than us?" The ring leader said dropping his hands from Jack Thompson's shirt.
"Yeah, I do actually." Okay, it might have been a bit prideful, but he was an angel for God's sake, if he wasn't better than a bunch of common bullies then he'd have already fallen instead of being on the verge of it.
"Oh really." Jack cowered slightly in the background, frozen, not knowing whether he should run or stay and watch what happened next. The leader of the other two boys was Corey Mason, certainly a kid who wasn't doing anything to change the stereotype of black kids and gang behavior. But given the upper-middle class suburbs they all lived in, and the fact that Corey's clothes were probably from a high-end store trying to emulate the inner-city look, Alex presumed that if Corey and his buddies ever met real gangsters they would run away crying, if they could make it away.
He could hear Corey's breath starting to come faster as he worked himself up for a fight. Alex's fight preparations were somewhat different. He was essentially built to be a soldier in the war between good and evil. Adrenaline coursed through him, making his heart beat harder, pushing more blood through his limbs, which he shook out gently to warm up. His vision sharpened as he targeted the places on their bodies that would take them down without hurting them more than was necessary. And above all, he wished Jack had run away when he had the chance.
When Corey threw his first punch, it was like the world was moving in slow motion. He expended hardly any energy to raise his left arm and block the blow and return with a right-hook to the side of Corey's head behind his ear to efficiently knock him out without giving him a shiner to show off on Monday at school.
The grimace of intense concentration slid off Corey's face with the blank eyes that closed as he dropped to the ground in the alley. Alex looked up from the unconscious form to find three sets of shocked faces with matching gaping mouths staring at him.
"I suggest you all get out of here." Alex looked at each of them and turned to the larger of the two lackeys, "And take him with you." He gestured with his head to Corey.
Alex walked out of the alley, his keen ears hearing
"Did you even see him hit?"
"Nah, did you?"
"No, but he must have, Corey's out cold."
Alex allowed a slight smile to touch his lips as he got into his car and began to drive home, the light of the setting sun nearly gone.
He arrived back at his house twenty minutes later and the dim light coming through the front windows indicated to him that his mother was in the living room at the back of the house and the lights were bleeding out into the foyer.
Alex unlocked the door and stepped inside to be greeted with a blast of dry, heated air.
"Hello." He called half-heartedly as he turned the deadbolt from the inside and slid out of his jacket and shoes.
"How did it go?" His mother answered from the living room
"Just the usual crap." He replied as he tossed his jacket onto the couch over the peninsula counter that was the only division between the living room and the kitchen.
"By 'the usual crap' do you mean he's telling you what I've been telling you for years?" Caraline was in the mood to argue. Again. Alex sighed before he sarcastically retorted
"That angels shouldn't be getting detention and B's in their classes? Mom, I have a 3.6 GPA. By default that means I get more A's than B's and you know it."
"College is harder to get into now, especially with all the budget issues California is having. If you want to succeed you have to…"
"Mom." Alex cut her off mid-sentence, "I could easily get into a Cal State school with a 3.6 and I know people who got into some of the University of California schools with a 3.7; it isn't all as doom and gloom as you make it sound."
"But some of the private schools won't…"
"Private schools? How do you think we're paying for college? I have a Keeper, not a fairy godmother who can make all our monetary wishes come true. I'm going to a public school and you know it, if not a community college."
"Or you could get a scholarship for swimming, have you ever thought of that?"
"I thought you didn't like me being on the swim team because I had an unfair advantage over everyone else."
Caraline sighed and said, "Well, some people just have unfair advantages sometimes, if yours helps pay for college without you having to join the reserve, I'd be okay with it."
"Okay, I'm really about done with hypocrites for today."
"What did the Keeper say?"
"Oh nothing, just bullshit about how I shouldn't lose my temper and then saying righteous anger was a good thing."
"First of all, you will not swear in this house, second of all, that isn't hypocrisy, it's making a distinction between meaningless anger and anger that is justified."
"Whatever, I'm going upstairs. I have school tomorrow."
"You should eat dinner."
"I'm not hungry." Alex's voice echoed through the foyer as he climbed the stairs, the footfalls on the wood floor growing fainter until finally Caraline heard a door close.
She sighed again and turned back to look at the television, thinking the only way that raising a frustrated angel for a child would be more difficult was if she had to deal with a daughter's teenage issues.
Alex didn't bother to turn on the light when he walked into his room, and he sat on his bed staring at the blinking lights from his computer and Xbox that rested on his desk across the room. He pulled off his shirt and pants and crawled under the covers of his bed in only his boxers and socks.
The clock on his bedside table told him it was only nine o'clock and he knew from the gnawing wakefulness behind his eyes that he wouldn't be falling asleep any time soon. More often than not he was up until one in the morning doing anything from reading to watching tv to just doing random things on the internet.
He sat up and leaned over the edge of his bed, pulling a beat up laptop from under the bed skirt. Everything he owned had pretty much gone through the wringer, because he lived an active life and was usually on the move. The hard drive whirred loudly as it booted up, which took a good few minutes. Alex sat chewing the skin on the inside of his cheek as he waited for it, thinking about how much it would cost to buy a new computer.
When he brought up the internet window, the first page he went to was Facebook. He scrolled down the page through the meaningless status messages about movies people had seen and where they had gone for vacation on Winter Break, when he noticed the icon that meant he had a new message.
Alex clicked on his inbox and cold anger started to brew in the pit of his stomach when he saw who the message came from: Matthew Harnigal. Against his better judgement, he opened the message and started to read
Well, it's that time of the month for both of us. I had to meet with my Handler, and I know you had to meet with your Keeper. I'm doing fine, keeping my havoc-wreaking in check, even though you don't seem to be doing your job in stopping me. In fact I hear you're still wreaking a little havoc of your own. I thought angels weren't supposed to do that. Maybe you'd fare better as a demon...
There were a few more paragraphs in the message, but Alex couldn't bring himself to read any more. He officially decided that it was one of his worst days ever and slammed the lid of his laptop shut. The hard drive spun frantically again, making little clicking noises as the computer went into hibernation mode. Alex shoved it back under his bed and walked over to his desk to turn on his Xbox, not even knowing what game was currently in it.
"Perfect." He said aloud as the screen came up. Call of Duty 4. Nothing like shooting at computer-generated enemies to get rid of anger. He picked up the controller and started cutting them down.