Ezekiel sat silently, popping pieces of popcorn into hismouth as he sat on his stone bench, watching the dozens of college studentsmill about on the first warm day of the year. He was next to Circle Drive, downfrom the library. His legs were crossed in his faded wash jeans, and hisvintage Pink Floyd t-shirt had stains from where he'd been wiping his handsclean of butter as he sat, waiting. He didn't know who he was waiting for, orwhen she would walk by, but he had come to this spot every day for the lastweek at around one in the afternoon as he was instructed.
I wish they'd justtell me who I was waiting for, he grumbled to himself. He dare not say thethought aloud for fear one of his superiors was listening. He would be in aworld of trouble if one of them flew down and had to tell him, once again, thathe had to discover his target himself; how it was important to learn thesethings when one was to become a guardian; how mingling with mortals wouldbetter prepare him to deal with their problems.
Ezekiel rolled his eyes heavenward. Whatever you say, he said snarkily in his head. His impatience,which had almost cost him this promotion, was getting the better of him; beingpatient was the one virtue he did not possess, but it should have been in hispersonality. After all, all angels were virtuous in nearly every single way.
Looking down at his watch, he was deciding whether or nothe should call it a day when he saw something move out of the corner of hiseye. It was a girl, with shoulder-length sandy blonde hair, rushing across theroad in front of him. She had a huge bag slung over one of her pale shoulders,nearly bursting at the seams, and a couple of grocery bags in the opposinghand. She pulled a small device out of the back pocket of her dark denim pants:a cell phone. Lighting up the screen to see the time, she swore silently toherself and kept moving, right past his bench.
Ezekiel perked up. He couldn't explain it, but suddenlyhe had this intense feeling of warmth wash over him; the urge to help someonein need. She was his target. And just as he realized this, as if his superiorswere looking to give him an in to speaking to her, one of her grocery bagsripped open and the contents spilled out onto the ground, only a couple of feetfrom where he was sitting.
Smiling upward, he winked. Gotcha. He hopped up off the bench and strode over to her. "Needsome help?" he asked in his soft, deep voice. A piece of his dark hair fellinto his eyes and he quickly brushed it aside, easing himself down into acrouching position.
The girl glanced up, taking her big green eyesmomentarily off of her mess. She smiled tensely at him; he had noticed she wasin a hurry and her body language toward him was reflecting this. "Um, no,thanks. I can manage." She returned her attention to her groceries.
Ezekiel, smile growing wider, reached out a hand andbegan collecting a couple of cans of Spaghetti Os. "I won't bite. Scout'shonor."
She flicked her eyes back up to meet his deep brown ones."Well, when you put it that way," she grumbled, perhaps realizing that he wouldnot take no for an answer, and correctly assuming it would be faster just totalk to him.
Once all the cans and boxes were back together, shovedhaphazardly into some of the other bags, Ezekiel held out his right hand toher. "Name's Zeke."
The girl, looking desperately exasperated, reached herright hand out quickly and shook his. "Noelle." She pulled her hand back as ifshe had been burned. "Nice to meet you, but I'm running really late."
"So I presumed," Ezekiel muttered, reaching out andtaking her groceries from her. "Let's not let you waste any more time withdropped canned goods." He stood, waiting patiently for her to lead the way.
Noelle looked at him for some time, trying to determineif he was for real. Finally, knowing she had no time to lose, she shook herhead and turned around. "I live in Shaw. Shall we?"
She kept up a fast pace, powerwalking toward theauditorium, and yet looking as graceful as if she were leisurely strolling. Shewas silent, glancing beside her only occasionally to make sure he did not runoff with her purchases. Ezekiel smiled to her every time she looked up; collegegirls seemed so untrusting as of late and it saddened him that he was notwearing down her guard.
When he could take the silence no longer, he finallysighed. "So, late for a hot date?"
Noelle stopped dead in her tracks and looked at a few seconds, she laughed, a beautiful smile crossing her face. "Oh, Iwish." She started back on her trek. "Actually, I have an online class that hasa discussion panel in five minutes. I was hoping to get some cleaning done andmaybe something to eat before it started, but the bus was running late and thena line at the checkout, so now I'll be lucky to get anything at dinner."
"Busy, huh?" He liked the sound of her voice; it wassweet and soft, like a love song.
"That would be an understatement. I just added educationto my history major and I have a ton of work to do to get back on track forgraduation. I'm taking about twenty credits this semester. Thankfully, I workas a night receptionist so I have plenty of time to study."
"Do you have any social life?" Ezekiel needed to gatheras much information as he could about his charge.
She shrugged, looking both ways before crossing thestreet. "Does tutoring count?"
He grinned at her, quickening his pace to follow heracross the street. "Not really."
"Then, no. I go to class, work, and I'm a co-chair in myhonors fraternity. I'm a very busy girl."
"So it would seem," Ezekiel murmured, increasing his paceslightly so he could walk right next to her.
She turned back to him and smiled again, going up theback steps of Shaw Hall. "What about you? Don't you have class or somethingthat should keep you busy at around two on a Wednesday afternoon?"
He shrugged rushing ahead to pull open the door for herand usher her inside the cool darkness of the back entry hall. "That's playing hooky today. It was too nice to sit in a stuffy classroom for atwo hour biology lecture." His cover on campus was being a microbiology major.
She led the way to the nearest stairwell. "Must be niceto have that kind of luxury." Her voice wasn't condescending; it actuallysounded envious. She stopped and held out her hands. "Thanks, Zeke. I think Ican handle it from here."
He hesitated, not wanting to leave her just yet, stillwanting to continue his reconnaissance. "Are you sure?"
She sighed. "Look, I appreciate the help. And it waswonderful to have some social interaction outsideof class, work, or the fraternity, but I'm not comfortable with you knowexactly where I live. There are too many crazies out there."
He nodded, reluctantly. "I understand." He handed her theseveral grocery bags. "It was very nice to meet you, Noelle," he said, graspingher empty hand in his and bringing it to his lips. "And hopefully next time wemeet, you won't be as suspicious."
She flushed only momentarily before starting for thestairs. "We'll see about that. I'm still suspicious of my own mother and I'veknown her my whole life." She smiled softly and turned her back on him.
Ezekiel retraced his steps, exiting the dark hallway andheading back into the sunlight. She was going to be a challenge and he couldnot decide if his superiors intended to give him a more difficult firstassignment to discourage him, or to test him. Only time would tell…