The tired guardian, or, How to get him to his family?

“What did the moron do this time?” The alarm woke me up early this morning. Still half asleep I move my hand over the floor to find my phone. The light on the screen is completely blinding, and for a second a see nothing but stars. Which would be nice, if I was outside, staring at the night sky. But I’m not. I’m staring at a message about my human, being a completely dipshit again.

Silently cursing, I get out of bed, with barely enough time to actually put on my robe. Being a guardian angel to an adult-ish idiot is hard work, as this particular idiot likes all kinds of dangerous sports but isn’t good at even one of them. It is a constant source of stress on my part, and the worst is that I have never received a single ‘thank you’. The idiot doesn’t even know I exist!
But it is my job to keep him safe, to deliver him back to his family, although he refuses to contact them most of the time. Even acknowledging his siblings seems too hard for him. Normally, that does not really bother me. It is my job to keep him safe, what he decides during the rest of his life is beyond my reach. However, this time of year always feels a bit different. Maybe it’s because I like the lights shimmering in the tree his mother puts up every year, or like the smells of the deserts that his sisters brings with her when they all come together. It could also simply be because all guardian angels receive their yearly evaluation during this last week of the year, and it would be nice to earn a couple of extra points by making sure he spends these so-called ‘family days’ with his actual family, instead of getting high with his dopey friends. With a slight growl, I stretch my back, try to shake the tiredness from my limbs, and spread my wings. Well, no more sleep for tonight. Let’s see what the lunatic has gotten himself into this time.

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The howling wind makes it almost impossible to hear anything, and my wings are almost numb from the cold, but this short sprint always gives my day a bit of a jumpstart. This is my cup of coffee in the morning, although I would never turn down a properly brewed cappuccino. I’m just snobbish enough to enjoy that. As far as you can be snobbish when your work-attire consists of just a basic Greek chiton. While checking my phone again, I keep an eye out for Lucas. Although his phone tells me he is home, that’s not always the case. He sometimes forgets to take the thing with him, yet I do know his five usual hangouts out of the back of my head. It’s the only lucky part of my job: Lucas is not that original, although he claims otherwise, so his options are rather limited.
Breaking into his house is ridiculously easy, since the window to his bedroom is open and music is blasting through the walls. The smell inside tells me enough and with a sigh, I walk straight to the kitchen. I see some friends, passed out drunk on either the couch or the floor, and Lucas slumped on one of the chairs that his mother bought him when he moved in. They left the fire on when, in their intoxicated wisdom, tried to fry bacon. It’s not the first time this has happened, there is no chance Lucas will get his deposit on his house back with that pretty black burn on the wall and roof. He managed to pull this trick twice at least, one time when I wasn’t anywhere near him and was almost unable to make it in time. One minute later and the house would have burned down with him in it, although I still prefer to believe that he would have woken up in time to save himself. It eases my conscious, but it also taught me that my dating life would have to wait till I relieved of my duty. You see, guardian angels are usually not assigned to a person for a whole lifetime. We work in shifts, and you can have multiple guardians in your life. You might also have a couple of years without one in between, as we are a little short-staffed all the time. It’s a chronic problem at the agency.
With this crisis averted, I allow myself the small break to materialize in the kitchen, and steal the only piece of bacon that still looks bacon-ish. It doesn’t taste half bad, but you can’t really count it as breakfast. With a sigh, I walk back to the small living/bedroom. What a mess… I can’t imagine living like this, but then again: I’m not Lucas, luckily. I wouldn’t end up so trashed that it will take several days to get back on my feet. If he gives himself the time to do so, at least. I sigh, open my phone to check time and date. I have two more days to get him ready for the festivities his family plans every year, and the only thing that is on my side is the fact that he won’t have to travel far. While they sleep off the alcohol, I shift around the apartment. It’s against the rules to interfere in a way that can be detected, which holds me from cleaning up this place. His mother stopped doing that some years ago, claiming it was time he learned to look after himself. While I do agree with her on that part, I still think she’s being too soft-hearted. Cutting him off from small things, like the maid who cleaned his apartment, while keeping the access to bank accounts open. I know that Lucas has two credit cards, both of them connected to his parent’s, and he still gets a monthly allowance. It’s supposed to be used for food, clothes, small yet essential purchases, and yet Lucas has been using it for alcohol, junk food, and to go on expensive trips with his no-good-friends. His mother knows, but chooses not to acknowledge the problem, while his father just simply ignores it. He is their son after all.
I sigh, wondering how I will get him to look presentable and show up at the doorstep of the family-home this year. It would be even more great if I could get him to buy presents, but it might be a bridge too far.

I disappear in thin air as soon as I hear sounds and movement in the living room. Apparently, someone has woken up from their self-induced coma. “Dude, you were so wasted last night.” The voice suggests the owner is not sober at this point either, the smell that comes from his mouth and body almost make me loose that small piece of bacon I just ate. Lucas just laughs, a stupid laugh that makes me want to punch him in the face. “Bro, I can’t even remember most of it.” He says it like it is something to be proud of, which infuriates me even more. Does he know how worried his family is about him? Does he care? I walk towards Marcus and place my hands just a centimetre aside from his ears. When someone is still this intoxicated, it’s quite easy to manipulate them, to make them ask the questions I need answered. “So are you still going to you folks for Christmas?” For a second the boy, I cannot call him anything else although he is old enough to be considered an adult, looks confused, wondering why he asked the question. I don’t in particular care about him being confused, he’ll never figure out the truth anyway. Lucas scoffs, a sound that makes my eyebrows lower. “No way man. I’m sure as hell not going. They just want to tell me how to live my life, like I’m some kind of child. I’m not taking that shit.” It takes some serious will-power not to solidify in the middle of the room and yell at the idiot. Tell him how to live his life? His parents have never done anything of the sort, and from time to time I wish they had. Maybe then Lucas would not have become the screw-up he is today. His friend, others are waking up now too, just snickers. “You’re right man. You’re an adult, you can make your own decisions. We should totally hang out together, go to a fancy restaurant or something. Show those rich bastards that you don’t have to dress all fancy to get somewhere in life.” Get where exactly? It hurts me to see that Lucas doesn’t even notice that this so-called ‘friend’ just wants a free, expensive meal. That he is just after that stupid credit card. Even though I don’t in particular like Lucas, I am assigned to him and I want to do my part in making him happy. But he’s making it a tough job. I grunt as quietly as possible. We might be able to become invisible, and with some concentration manipulate some human beings as well as walk through walls, but you can still hear us if we talk. I feel my phone vibrate, and walk to the open window. Floating on my wings and the air just outside I pick up. “Hello?” Who could this be? No one usually calls during these days, everyone is too busy with their own assignments.
The desperation in the voice is so bad it startles me, I almost drop out of the sky. Which would be unfortunate. We might be guardians, here to protect, but even we would be seriously injured after a 10-floor-drop. “Lux! Oh you have no idea how glad I am that you picked up! Please tell me you’ve seen Colby?” I sigh. “Seriously Hina, how can you lose your assignment four times in one month?” I like Hina, she’s fun to hang out with, but she has lost sight of the boy so many times that it’s not funny anymore. Hina grumbles slightly, I sigh again. “He doesn’t have his phone with him?” It’s a stupid question, I imagine Hina already tracing his phone but Colby does not wear it on him often. He knows his parents use it to find him as well. I look inside the house. Colby is no stranger to Lucas, although they are more of acquaintances than friends. “He’s not with Lucas, but if I see him later I’ll let you know.” I hope that by that time she has found him herself. Unfortunately we all know that losing Colby is not really Hina’s fault. We are not invincible, we need sleep and rest as well to perform our tasks and yet this kid never seems to sleep. It’s usually the night when Hina loses him, when his parents lose him yet again. She has interfered in life-threatening situations possibly more times than any of us with our current assignments. “Thanks Lux, if you find him I owe you one!” Hina’s nice, but completely unfit for Colby. The agency probably just saw his age, his background, the fact that he was still alive even though he had never had a guardian before, and thought he was an easy kid. How wrong they were… In the last year, Colby has formed from an easy going child, to a seriously troubled adolescent. He gets involved with the wrong types, has friends who you would not bring home to your mother, and most importantly: acts out at every possible moment even though he’s not even 16 years old. Lucas’ room stirs more and more, I hear a vague discussion about potential breakfasts with the final conclusion to go (very original) to some fastfood place. It is probably the best cure for their hangover, but the fact that they eat this kind of food almost three times a day all week seems unhealthy to me.
“We should totally go to the park today. I know I almost got this new trick down.” Lucas’ words are almost non-understandable, with his mouth stuffed with a burrito. Breakfast-burrito’s this place calls them, although I’m pretty sure it has none of the elements a nutritious breakfast should have. Nonte of the sustenance you should take in if you ever want to become a professional skateboarder: Lucas’ big dream. His abilities on that board are very limited, and yet he thinks he’s skilled. Gifted even. Everyone who told him otherwise he has cut out of his life, including his parents for some years. How he turned out like that remains a mystery to me, it had happened before I met him but was not written down in his file which let to my conclusion that he drifted off in some unwatched years. The suck-ups he surrounds himself with these years have never disagreed with him, never helped him become more realistic. They just say whatever he wants to hear, whatever he thinks is real. Only one of them lingers, unsteady and unsure. I don’t see a set of wings around him, his change of heart must come from deep within. “Sam, what are you waiting for? Come on dude?” Sam is the youngest of the group, he doesn’t really fit in but desperately tries to. He just wants to be a part of something, doesn’t like the idea that he will potentially get kicked out of this group of misfits. “I.. I can’t. I have to..,” he stutters, barely able to look up from the ground. “You have to do what dude?” Lucas does not seem to understand the possibility of someone not wanting to go with them, to do something else than just hang around. “I have to buy gifts man, for my siblings.” Sam has two sisters, just like Lucas, but instead of Lucas he feels some responsibility. Lucas scoffs. “That’s so lame dude,” he says in his ‘tough guy voice’. Sam turns red. “I know man, but my sister invited me and it’s free food.” As if you need an excuse to be with family. It pains me to see the boy like this. His heart tells me he really wants to spend time with them, really wants to see the happiness on their faces if he can buy them something thoughtful. But no one is this group seems to understand that. “Well then, rung along to your mommy you big baby,” Marcus says, with an almost cruel grin. Sam shifts from red to crimson, making me feel even worse for him. He’s a nice kid, wants to do a nice thing, and the others make fun of him for it. It breaks my heart and although it’s not my place to do so I decide to step in a little bit. It might get me in trouble, but I don’t care. Call it the Christmas-spirit. Slowly I place my hand on Sam’s shoulder, send the courage through his body, the strength that he needs to go along with his own mind and plan. He shrugs defensively. “See you guys next year,” he murmurs, turns around and starts walking, leaving behind the others shocked. As easy it is to manipulate, it is just as easy to call upon courage if someone has it in them. If I had known Sam would be so courageous, so easy to awaken that side inside of him I would have stepped in a long time ago. Lucas scoffs again. “Whatever, let’s go.” Did I just see a slight shimmer, a slight change of heart? Ooh dear boy, you will fall for my manipulation as well…

“Where should we go for dinner?” The question is asked with an obviously fake casualness. Marcus throws away the bud of his cigarette, pretending not to care and yet he does. He cares deeply, wants this plan of going to a fancy restaurant to go through almost desperately. I have never been able to figure out whether or not he’s doing this sort of thing because he’s poor, or just because he wants the status of Lucas’ family. The problem is that although his parents are relatively wealthy, they are not incredibly rich and because of Lucas’ behaviour his friends have developed the idea that they are. It is troublesome to say the least. Lucas shrugs. “I don’t know man, we can just order a pizza.” He’s not even slightly aware of Marcus’ intentions, falling flat on his face while trying some new trick seems more important. His parent’s insurance pays for his teeth, so why should he worry about them? Marcus laughs, as if Lucas is the most funny person on earth. “No way dude, pizza isn’t Christmas-y. We should totally stick it to those fat cats. Like didn’t your parents just take you and your sisters to one of those fancy restaurants up north?” Lucas looks confused, even I have to scramble my brain. The last dinner he went to with his family was his parents anniversary dinner two years ago, and it indeed was a really nice restaurant. He caused a scene with his oldest sister, fighting over why he had (according to himself) every right to use the family’s credit card to fund his lifestyle. She did not agree, and did so quite loudly. I couldn’t blame her, although I did not fully agree with her either. The fact that Marcus thinks this dinner was not too long ago, says something about the state of mind the group has been living in for the last couple of years. Lucas shrugs. “I don’t know and I don’t really care, you guys pick something.” The stupidest thing he could say, the glimmer of opportunity in Marcus’ eyes makes me worry, as if I don’t worry enough about this kid.

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“What do you mean, declined?” I whistle silently, slightly amused while I look at the boys. Look at their anger, their strange sense of righteousness, and mostly their desperation. They just ordered an immense load of fries, hamburgers, nachos, and other junk food and without Lucas’ credit cards there is no way that they will be able to pay for this ‘lunch’. I might have overstepped this time, this might actually cost me my job, but I am far beyond caring. It’s my job to keep Lucas from harm, and while that particular assignment is mostly understood as physical harm I have had enough. I’ve been looking after the kid for almost five years now, my longest task yet, and I’ve seen him fall deeper and deeper. Getting involved with more and more leeches and wannabee friends. When I heard Sam was officially out of the group, I knew I had no other choice but to use my powers of manipulation to get his credit cards blocked. It serves two purposes actually. One: I hope all of these fake friends will turn their backs on him showing what they are really after, and two: it will force him to call his parents, force him to go home for Christmas. “Try it again.” Lucas’ voice is demanding, it always gets like that when he’s scared. But it is declined again, as is the other one. I made sure the credit card companies think the cards have been stolen and blocked them all. And it’s time to watch this story unfold. Marcus steps towards Lucas. “Dude, how are we going to pay for all this food?” He does not seem worried, but then again: he has never been worried about money since he never pays for anything. Lucas looks at his friend, genuinely confused. “I don’t know man. Do any of you guys have money?” Card, cash, I think by this time Lucas is willing to accept the strangest foreign currencies. His friends, however, have none of that. They look genuinely confused that he asks them for it in the first place. Lucas is only starting to realize none of them are grabbing and checking wallets. His gaze returns to Marcus. “Seriously, no money at all?” His friend shakes his head. “Dude, I don’t even own a wallet.” He says it like it’s something to be proud of.
“I can help you out.” The voice is young, a lot younger than the rest of the people surrounding my assignment. It startles me to hear it. I hadn’t even noticed Colby joining the group, flashing a gold and black piece of plastic. I don’t feel Hina’s presence, so she must still be searching for him. Lucas’ looks confused, Marcus annoyed. Colby is an outsider in his eyes, a potential bad influence on his power over Lucas. Colby plays with the credit card. “I can help you out,” he repeats with an grown-up nonchalance. “But that will cost you.” This is not the tone I’m used to from Colby, who is usually a quiet kid that might get into trouble, but only trouble he chooses to get involved in. Some caution flares in Lucas’ eyes, a sign that his brain might not be as destroyed as I sometimes fear. “What do you want in return?” he asks, on his toes, alert, wary about the demand that might come. Colby flashes a grin. “You call my parents that I’m staying with you for Christmas.”
You can hear a pin drop after that demand. The whole group falls into stupefied silence, the only sound disturbing this sudden peace-created-by-surprise is the sound of a big splash as I drop the container of soda I had in my hand. With that drop it becomes visible, but luckily the boys are too caught up in their own astonishment to notice the big-spill-that-came-out-of-nowhere. Which is great, because half of that sticky and sugary water flowed over Marcus’ shoes. It takes a second before I realize I should probably text Hina that I found Colby, which is just as long as it takes Lucas to come back to his senses. He starts laughing. It’s a mean laugh, I don’t like it and it doesn’t suit him. “Dude, you’re so funny. I’m not going to let some dwarf like you crash at my place for Christmas. Besides, I don’t think we’ll be home, right bro?” He looks at Marcus, who grins and nods his head. I frown, a bit angry, as I see the hurt expression on Colby’s face. He might act all tough, but he’s still a kid. “Whatever asshole, then go scrub pans to pay for all that.” Colby gets up, ready to storm off. Lucas glances to the counter, where the food is piling up as the orders just keep on coming in.

“Okay, you got a deal.” The idea of scrubbing pans is too much for my boy. Colby turns around, looks at the older boy a bit warily. “So I can stay with you for Christmas?” he repeats his demand. Lucas nods, Marcus looks angry at his friend and benefactor. “Dude, you serious? Why do we want to babysit this kid?” In other words: why would Lucas mess with the plans Marcus already made. For a second, annoyance showed in Lucas’ eyes while he pointed at the food behind him. “You have a better idea to pay for that shitload of food?” He never used that tone with Marcus before, or at least not that I’ve ever heard. It makes me grin, as Marcus shrinks a physical centimetre. With a big grin on his face, Colby pushes forwards, flashes the card and settles the whole debate, much to the relieve of the guy behind the counter who already pictured himself getting fired right before the holidays.

While the others wolf down the food, and Colby plays some game on his phone, Lucas is uncharacteristically quiet. “Dude, did you choke on your burger, or are you just thinking of that awesome dinner tonight?” Marcus hits him in the shoulder with his elbow, Lucas looks at him with an annoyed look. “And how did you think we we’re going to pay for that restaurant, asshole?” His tone is tense, he seems to be annoyed to the core by his friend’s behaviour. Marcus throws him a confused look. “Well with your credit… Oh… Shit dude! What are you going to do?” The annoyed look becomes genuinely angry, as Lucas throws down his burger and grabs his phone. “Well, thanks to you assholes always making me pay, I have to call my parents.” It’s the first time that Marcus is smart enough not to say a word, but only because Lucas looks like he might break his nose if he does. Colby looks up from his phone, throwing the most amused look I’ve ever seen on the child’s face. Lucas punches the number, only to realize that I did my work very thoroughly. His phone bill gets payed with the same credit card I had blocked. “Damn!” he curses, loudly, as he throws his phone across the restaurant, shattering the screen on impact with the floor. I chuckle silently, but luckily so does Colby, which draws the attention away from the sound I make. “You think this is funny, you little imp?” Marcus raises from his chair, trying to threaten the boy but he doesn’t move an inch. Instead, he gives Marcus an amused smile. “Looks like your piggybank might need to go home after all during Christmas,” he says with a smile, throwing Lucas’ words back into his own face. And that face shows utter defeat, knowing that Colby is absolutely right. There is no way to get his money back, unless he goes home…

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“Wait, so Colby is with Lucas, at his parents?” Hina looks up at me, her face rather shocked, as we both wait for our drinks at the open bar of the annual evaluation. This part is the only reason why I like coming to the headquarters. I nod, with a big grin on my face. “How, in heaven’s name, did you manage that?” I chuckle. “Well, you just heard me getting chewed out by the big boss, right?” I ask, she nods. “That was because I decide to do some meddling. I had his credit cards blocked. He had no choice but to crawl back home, and little Colby made him another offer Luke couldn’t refuse.” My boy is not suited for the manual labour of doing chores until that bill was payed for. “So they went together.” Hina sighs deeply and takes a sip of her drink. “Well… It’s not his own family, but I’m glad he’s somewhere getting a good meal tonight,” she mumbles, and this time I nod in agreement. I raise my drink to her. “Well, here’s to a new year, with the same old assignments.” We’re both stuck with our boys for another year, but till the new year we won’t have to look after them. It’s holiday-time, even for guardian angels.

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