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Dark Angel (Chapter 5)

Actually, it wasn't the light she noticed first. It was an eerie feeling that some… presence was in her

room with her.

She'd had the feeling before, waking up to feel that something had just left, maybe even in the instant it

had taken her to open her eyes. And that while asleep, she'd been on the verge of some great discovery

about the world, something that was lost as soon as she woke.

But tonight, the feeling stayed. And as she stared around the room, feeling dazed and stupid and leaden,

she slowly realized that the light was wrong.

She'd forgotten to close the curtains, and moonlight was streaming into the room. It had the thin blue

translucence of new snow. But in one corner

of Gillian's room, by the gilded Italian chest of drawers, the light seemed to have pooled. Coalesced.

Concentrated. As if reflecting off a mirror.

There wasn't any mirror.

Gillian sat up slowly. Her sinuses were stuffed up and her eyes felt like hard-boiled eggs. She breathed

through her mouth and tried to make sense of what was in the corner.

It looked like … a pillar. A misty pillar of light. And instead of fading as she woke up, it seemed to be

getting brighter.

An ache had taken hold of Gillian's throat. The light was so beautiful… and almost familiar. It reminded

her of the tunnel and the meadow and …

Oh.

She knew now.

It was different to be seeing this when she wasn't dead. Then, she'd accepted strange things the way you

accept them in dreams, without ordinary logic or disbelief interfering.

But now she stared as the light got brighter and brighter, and felt her whole skin tingling and tears pooling

in her eyes. She could hardly breathe. She didn't know what to do.

How do you greet an angel in the ordinary world?

The light continued to get brighter, just as it had in the meadow. And now she could see the shape in it,

walking toward her and rushing at the same time. Still brighter-dazzling and pulsating-until

she had to shut her eyes and saw red and gold after images like shooting stars.

When she squinted her eyes back open, he was there.

Awe caught at Gillian's throat again. He was so beautiful that it was frightening. Face pale, with traces of

the light still lingering in his features. Hair like filaments of gold. Strong shoulders, tall but graceful body,

every line pure and proud and different from any human. He looked more different now than he had in

the meadow. Against the drab and ordinary background of Gillian's room, he burned like a torch.

Gillian slid off her bed to kneel on the floor. It was an automatic reflex.

"Don't do that." The voice was like silver fire. And then-it changed. Became somehow more ordinary,

like a normal human voice. "Here, does this help?"

Gillian, staring at the carpet, saw the light that was glinting off a stray safety pin fade a bit. When she

tilted her eyes up, the angel looked more ordinary, too. Not as luminous. More like just an impossibly

beautiful teenage guy.

"I don't want to scare you," he said. He smiled.

"Yeah," Gillian whispered. It was all she could get out.

"Are you scared?"

"Yeah."

The angel made a frustrated circling motion with one arm. "I can go through all the gobbledygook:

be not afraid, I mean you no harm, all that-but it's such a waste of time, don't you think?" He peered at

her. "Aw, come on, kid, you died earlier today. Yesterday. This isn't really all that strange in comparison.

You can deal."

"Yeah." Gillian blinked. "Yeah," she said with more conviction, nodding.

"Take a deep breath, get up-"

"Yeah."

"-say something different…"

Gillian got up. She perched on the edge of her bed. He was right, she could deal. So it hadn't been a

dream. She had really died, and there really were angels, and now one was in the room with her, looking

almost solid except at the edges. And he had come to …

"Why did you come here?" she said.

He made a noise that, if he hadn't been an angel, Gillian would have called a snort. "You don't think I

ever really left, do you?" he said chidingly. "I mean, think about it. How did you manage to recover from

freezing without even needing to go to the hospital? You were in severe hypothermia, you know. The

worst. You were facing pulmonary edema, ventricular fibrillation, the loss of a few of your bits…" He

wiggled his fingers and waggled his feet. That was when Gillian realized he was standing several inches off

the floor. "You were in bad shape, kid. But you got out of it without even frostbite."

Gillian looked down at her own ten pink fingers.

They were tinglingly over-sensitive, but she didn't have even one blood blister. "You saved me."

He gave a half grin and looked sheepish. "Well, it's my job."

"To help people."

"To help you."

A barely acknowledged hope was forming in Gillian's mind. He never really left her; it was his job to

help her. That sounded like… Could he be …

Oh, God, no, it was too corny. Not to mention presumptuous.

He was looking sheepish again. "Yeah. I don't know how to put it, either. But it is true, actually. Did you

know that most people think they have one even when they don't? Somebody did a poll, and 'most

people have an inner certainty that there is some particular, individual spirit watching over them.' The

New Agers call us spirit guides. The Hawaiians call us aumakua…"

"You're a guardian angel," Gillian whispered.

"Yeah. Your guardian angel. And I'm here to help you find your heart's desire."

"I-" Gillian's throat dosed.

It was too much to believe. She wasn't worthy. She should have been a better person so that she would

deserve some of the happiness that suddenly spread out in front of her.

But then a cold feeling of reality set in. She wasn't a better person, and although she was sure

enlightenment and whatever else an angel

thought your heart's desire was, was terrific, well … in her case…

She swallowed. "Look," she said grimly. "The things I need help with-well, they're not exactly the kinds

of things angels are likely to know about."

"Heh." He grinned. He leaned over in a position that would have unbalanced an ordinary person and

waved an imaginary something over her head. "You shall go to the ball, Cinderella."

A wand. Gillian looked at him. "Now you're my fairy godmother?"

"Yeah. But watch the sarcasm, kid." He changed to a floating position, his arms clasping his knees, and

looked her dead in the eye. "How about if I say I know your heart's desire is for David Blackburn to fall

madly in love with you and for everyone at school to think you're totally hot?"

Heat swept up Gillian's face. Her heart was beating out the slow, hard thumps of embarrassment- and

excitement. When he said it out loud like that, it sounded extremely shallow… and extremely, extremely

desirable.

"And you could help with that?" she choked out.

"Believe it or not, Ripley."

"But you're an angel."

He templed his fingers. "The paths to enlightenment are many. Grasshopper. Grasshopper? Maybe I

should call you Dragonfly. You are sort of

iridescent. There're lots of other insects, but Dung-Beetle sounds sort of insulting. …"

I've got a guardian angel who sounds like Robin Williams, Gillian thought. It was wonderful. She started

to giggle uncontrollably, on the edge of tears.

"Of course, there's a condition," the angel said, dropping his fingers. He looked at her seriously. His eyes

were like the violet-blue at the bottom of a flame.

Gillian gulped, took a scared breath. "What?"

"You have to trust me."

"That's it?"

"Sometimes it won't be so easy."

"Look." Gillian laughed, gulped again, steadied herself. She looked away from his eyes, focusing on the

graceful body that was floating in midair. "Look, after all I've seen… after you saved my life-and my bits

… how could I not trust you?" She said it again quietly. "How could I ever not trust you?"

He nodded. Winked. "Okay," he said. "Let's prove it."

"Huh?" Slowly the feeling of awed incredulity was fading. It was beginning to seem almost normal to talk

to this magical being.

"Let's prove it. Get some scissors."

"Scissors?"

Gillian stared at the angel. He stared back.

"I don't even know where any scissors are."

"Drawer to the left of the silverware drawer in

the kitchen. A big sharp pair." He grinned like Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother.

Gillian wasn't afraid. She didn't decide not to be, she simply wasn't.

"Okay," she said and went down to get the scissors. The angel went with her, floating just behind her

shoulder. At the bottom of the stairs were two Abyssinian cats, curled up head to toe like the Yin-Yang

symbol. They were fast asleep. Gillian nudged one gently with one toe, and it opened sleepy crescents of

eyes.

And then it was off like a flash-both cats were. Streaking down the side hall, falling over each other,

skidding on the hardwood floor. Gillian watched with her mouth open.

"Balaam's ass," the angel said wisely.

"I beg your pardon?" For a moment Gillian thought she was being insulted.

"I mean, animals can see us."

"But they were scared. All their fur-I've never seen them like that before."

"Well, they may not understand what I am. It happens sometimes. Come on, let's get the scissors."

Gillian stared down the side hall for a moment, then obeyed.

"Now what?" she said as she brought the scissors back to her room.

"Go in the bathroom."

Gillian went into the little bathroom that adjoined

her bedroom and flicked on the light. She licked dry lips.

"And now?" she said, trying to sound flippant. "Do I cut off a finger?"

"No. Just your hair."

In the mirror over the sink, Gillian saw her own jaw drop. She couldn't see the angel, though, so she

turned around.

"Cut my hair? Off?"

"Off. You hide behind it too much. You have to show the world that you're not hiding anymore."

"But-" Gillian raised protective hands, looking back in the mirror. She saw herself, pale, delicate boned,

with eyes like wood violets-peering out from a curtain of hair.

So maybe he had a point. But to go into the world naked, without anything to duck behind, with her face

exposed…

"You said you trusted me," the angel said quietly.

Gillian chanced a look at him. His face was stem and there was something in his eyes that almost scared

her. Something unknowable and cold, as if he were withdrawing from her.

"It's the way to prove yourself," he said. "It's like taking a vow. If you can do this part, you're brave

enough to do what it takes to get your heart's desire." He paused deliberately. "But, of course, if you're

not brave enough, if you want me to go away …"

"No," Gillian said. Most of what he was saying

made sense, and as for what she didn't understand-well, she would have to have faith.

I can do this.

To show that she was serious, she took the open scissors, bracketed the pale blond curtain at a level

with her ear, and squeezed them shut. Her hair just folded around the scissors.

"Okay." The angel was laughing. "Hold onto the hair at the bottom and pull. And try less hair."

He sounded like himself again: warm and teasing and loving-helpful. Gillian let out her breath, gave a

wobbly smile, and devoted herself to the horrible and fascinating business of cutting off long blond

chunks.

When she was done, she had a silky blond cap. Short. It was shorter than Amy's hair, almost as short as

J.Z. Oberlin's hair, the girl at school who worked as a model and looked like a Calvin Klein ad. It was

really short.

"Look in the mirror," the angel said, although Gillian was already looking. "What do you see?"

"Somebody with a bad haircut?"

"Wrong. You see somebody who's brave. Strong. Out there. Unique. Individualist. And, incidentally,

gorgeous."

"Oh, please." But she did look different. Under the ragged St. Joan bob, her cheekbones seemed to

stand out more; she looked older, more sophisticated. And there was color in her cheeks.

"But it's still all uneven."

"We can get it smoothed out tomorrow. The

important thing is that you took the first step yourself. By the way, you'd better learn to stop blushing. A

girl as beautiful as you has to get used to compliments."

"You're a funny kind of angel."

"I told you, it's part of the job. Now let's see what you've got in your closet."

An hour later, Gillian was in bed again. This time, under the covers. She was tired, dazed, and very

happy.

"Sleep fast," the angel said. "You've got a big day tomorrow."

"Yes. But wait." Gillian tried to keep her eyes open. "There were some things I forgot to ask you."

"Ask."

"That crying I heard in the woods-the reason I went in. Was it a kid? And are they okay?"

There was a brief pause before he answered. "That information is classified. But don't worry," he added.

"Nobody's hurt-now."

Gillian opened one eye at him, but it was dear he wasn't going to say any more. "Okay," she said

reluctantly. "And the other thing was-I still don't know what to call you."

"I told you. Angel."

Gillian smiled, and was immediately struck by a jaw-cracking yawn. "Okay. Angel." She opened her

eyes again. "Wait. One more thing…"

But she couldn't think of it. There had been some other mystery she'd wanted to ask about,

something that had to do with Tanya, with Tanya and blood. But she couldn't summon it up.

Oh, well. She'd remember later. "I just wanted to say-thank you."

He snorted. "You can say it anytime. Get this through your head, kid: I'm not going anywhere. I'll be

here tomorrow morning." He began to hum a Blind Melon song. " I'll always be there when you wake…

.' Yeah, yeah, yeah."

Gillian felt warm, protected… loved. She fell asleep smiling.

The next morning she woke early and spent a long time in the bathroom. She came down the stairs

feeling self-conscious and lightheaded-literally. With her hair gone her neck felt as if it were floating. She

braced herself as she walked into the kitchen.

Neither of her parents was there, even though her father was usually having breakfast by now. Instead, a

girl with dark hair was sitting at the kitchen table, bent closely over a calculus textbook.

"Amy!"

Amy glanced up and blinked. She squinted, blinked again, then jumped up, standing an inch taller than

Gillian. She moved forward, her eyes huge.

Then she screamed.

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