Boy, oh boy. He' an angel.
I quietly open my brother’s bedroom door, sticking my head into the darkness. I spot him lying in his bed, his back facing me with the sheet wrapped snugly around his torso. I hear his soft snores and I take a breath of relief, glad that he’s still breathing. I tape the note I wrote to the corner of his desk, letting him know that I’m going into the city for work. My brother has been deathly ill for a while now and the doctors have diagnosed him with lung cancer. Luckily, in our time the cure for cancer has been created, but it is crazy expensive. When I tell my brother I’m going into the city for work, I’m not exactly lying. Pay in the city is good, but not good enough to get me the medicine in such short notice. He’s going downhill fast, and that means I need to get the medicine even faster. So, I turn to something I’m good at. Gambling.
I shut the door quietly after taking another longing look at him, hoping that he’ll see the note when he gets up. I already made him breakfast, which I neatly tucked into the fridge for him to heat up. Hopefully I’ll be back by lunch time. I want to spend all day with him, but when I’m with him, I’m not getting the money I need to save his life. Then again, when I’m busy getting the money, he’s left all alone at the house.
I throw on my jacket and sit at the edge of the couch, lacing up my shoes as quickly as I can. Each day, I like to be as quick as I can and earn as much cash as I can. My goal is five hundred each day, but sometimes I can’t even manage two hundred. It all depends on who I’m up against, and how much money they bet.
I slip out into the cold autumn air and pop up the collar of my jacket, zipping it up until it covers my chin and lips. I breathe down the front of my jacket, hoping that it keeps my body warm. The leaves crunch beneath my feet as I run down the driveway, towards the city.
My brother and I have been close since we were little, but when our parents passed away, that left him and I to fend for ourselves. We’ve grown closer since then and he’s been a great role model. He was seventeen and I was fifteen when our parents passed, and he decided to take it upon himself to raise me. We live on the outskirts of the main city now, in a small cabin with deteriorating bricks and mossy walkways. But it’s home.
I turn and find myself on the road, then I cautiously look over my shoulder to make sure there aren’t any cars coming. Once I’m sure I’m clear, I bolt across the street so I can walk against traffic.
All of that was two years ago. My brother, Gabriel, is nineteen now, which makes me seventeen. Only a year after our parents died, Gabriel was diagnosed with lung cancer. That scared me. After our parents were gone, I atleast still had Gabriel by my side, but the thought of losing him too dug a huge empty hole in my heart. That’s why I go out and do this every day. In hopes that I can save my brother.
Headlights shine over the hill as a car approaches and I stick my thumb out, hoping that they will stop and drive me the rest of the way into the city. An old blue Toyota flies past me, the driver not even glancing my way. I drop my arm and tuck my icy fingers into my pockets, clenching them into fists in hopes of preserving warmth.
It’s not exactly strange for people to pass hitch hikers around here. A lot of people are hostile and suspicious of strangers. I can’t blame them, I wouldn’t trust me either, especially with how suspicious I look walking alone down the side of the road in freezing weather with nothing but jeans, tenni shoes, and a jacket. The cold air bites at my face and I hitch my shoulders up, pulling my head lower so I have a little more protection from the cold.
Unlike most of the people in the world nowadays, I’m human, as is my brother. What I mean by that is, many other types of creatures share this world with us now. It’s common to walk into a room and find a wide variety of types, like fairies, goblins, witches, warlocks, seers, elves, all kinds of things. My brother and I live on the outskirts of the city for a reason. We prefer seclusion.
Headlights shine around a bend in the road and I look over my shoulder, seeing a car coming at a decent speed. I stick my thumb out and notice the car slows it’s speed. I sigh in relief as it comes to a stop beside me, a woman with long golden hair and pointy ears leaning in her seat so she can look at me.
“My, what are you doing walking out here in the cold? With only a jacket?” She says in a twinkling voice. “Where would you like to go?”
“Into the city,” I say, ending towards the car while watching the road in case anyone else comes. No need to get creamed by a car today. “May I have a ride?”
“Of course. Hop on in,” She unlocks the passenger side and I slide in, careful not to make a mess with my muddy shoes.
“Thank you,” I mutter as I buckle up.
She smiles and pulls the car back into drive. “It’s no problem at all. I’m actually headed into the city as well. What are you going for?”
“Work,” I lie.
“Oh, wonderful! I’m going for work too,” She taps on her name tag, which is carefully pinned to the front of her white blazer. “I’m a doctor.”
I perk up, shifting in my seat to face her. “Where do you work?”
“At Judes. I work with newborn babies,” She smiles harder.
“Oh,” I slide back into my seat, trying to mask my disappointment.
“Where do you work?” She asks.
Think, come on. “Uh, a restaurant.”
“Nice,” She says simply. I can tell she’s soaking in her success.
I decide to spend the rest of the car ride in silence, not seeing the need to strike up any unnecessary conversation. After we made it into the city, she kindly dropped me off in city central and went on her own way. I waved goodbye to her as she left, then headed straight for the most well-known gambling place. At least, well-known to me.
I briskly walk into the bar and flash my fake ID at the jumper standing by the side room. He nods and moves aside while his tail flicks in irritation, letting me walk through without a second glance. I take caution not to smash his tail beneath my shoe as I make my way into the dimly lit room, heading straight for the card tables. I slide onto a stool and nod at the other men sitting around me. They all nod back, not fazed by my appearance. I guess I have my looks going for me. I’ve always appeared older than I actually am.
I pull out a fifty and place it in the center of the table, starting off the bet. The rest of the men do the same, adding the same price. I sit back in my seat and watch as the dealer shuffles the deck and begins to pass out the cards. We’re going to be playing a simple game of War. We all lay a card face down at the same time, then flip it. Whoever has the highest number card gets all of the cards laying down. Last player standing wins all of the money. And may I say, I’m very good at this game.
I sift through my hand, smiling when I see an Ace, as well as other high ranked cards. I try to hide the look of satisfaction that is surely plastered on my face.
I pick my card and lay it face down on the table, then wait as the other men think their choices through, then follow after me. They all slap their cards down on the table and look at eachother. One man, an Elf with brown hair and a veiny forehead, smirks to himself. I swallow back my fear in hopes that my seven of hearts is higher than whatever he has.
We all flip our cards over and I quickly scan all of theirs. I sigh in relief when I find that my card is the highest one. The men groan as I swipe all of the cards off of the table, adding them to my hand. It goes on like this for a long while, flipping and picking and stealing cards until there are only three people left. Me, the Elf, and a guy who looks like he’s supposed to be working in a library. The librarian has one card left and he nervously rests it on the table. Elf guy and I take a moment to choose our cards. I’m tempted to pick my Ace, but I want to save that one for last, so I know that I’ll win the bet. I pick the ten of spades and lay it down. Moments later, the Elf guy picks his card and lays it down too. We all flip our cards and the librarian cries out, realizing that he’s lost. I clench my fists as the Elf swipes my card off of the table, tucking it beneath his previously laid down jack of diamonds. My knee bounces beneath the table as my nerves start to get to me. It doesn’t help that a crowd has gathered around us, eagerly babbling about who they think will win and making bets amongst themselves.
It seems to go on forever before I get the Elf down to his last three cards. He’s staring at me evilly and I lay my Ace down on the table, then he lays his card down beside mine. We flip them, and we both gasp. We both played an Ace.
“This means War,” He smirks.
I smile even harder. “We can’t play war if you don’t have enough warriors, Sir.” I gesture at his two remaining cards. You can only play war if you have four cards left.
He groans and slaps the rest of his cards down on the table. I quickly take my winnings and shove them into my pocket without counting. I already know how much there is. Exactly two-hundred-and-fifty dollars. I always make it a habit to pick a large group and bet a small amount. If I lose, I don’t lose much, but if I win, it adds up. I go to slide out of my stool, but the Elf catches me by my elbow, an angry look on his smug face.
“That was a cheat!” He snaps.
“What are you talking about? How can I cheat at a game of chance?” I argue, ripping my arm out of his grasp.
“How am I supposed to know?! But those winnings are mine, kid! How about we play War again? Just you and I!” He insists.
“No!” I growl, attempting to move around him. The door isn’t too far away, if I start running, I could make it out before the Elf catches me. “This is my money, and I’m keeping it. Get lost!”
He grabs my arm again, shaking me viciously. “Play another game!” He hisses.
“Let go of me!” I shout, grabbing his wrist with my free hand and trying to pry off his fingers. “I’m leaving now!”
“You aren’t going anywhere! That’s my money you’ve got!” He shouts back, causing a crowd to look at us. Even though I had many witnesses to my win, no one seemed to step in. They are all too eager to see a fight instead of defend me.
“This is my money! I won it fair and square! Now back off!” I growl, trying again to rip my arm from his grip.
Instead, I pull him against me and I stumble backwards, making the Elf trip over my feet and stumble too, plowing into me. We fall to the floor in a tangle of legs, both kicking and cussing while trying to get free. He grunts his anger and grabs the collar of my shirt, pinning me on my back.
“Hand over the money!” He hisses.
I spread my legs and try to knee him in the thighs. “Get off!”
He puts one of his hands around my throat and the other hand starts digging through my pockets. “If you won’t hand it over, I’ll just take it!”
I panic, kicking my legs furiously while my fingers claw at his hand, trying to free his grip on my throat so I can breathe better. Fear strikes my heart when he reaches into the right pocket and pulls out a wad of cash, more than what I just won. All of the cash I brought with me today. He grins triumphantly and shoves the money in his coat pocket. I can’t stop the tears that threaten to spill down my face as I kick him.
“Stop!” I scream, my voice cracking. “That’s for my brother!”
He ignores me, digging his hand down into my pocket again. He pulls out my wallet and flips it open.
“Sto-” He cuts off my protest by the squeeze of his hand.
He grins, flashing my ID at me. I freeze when I realize that he’s showing me my real ID. “This kid in underage. The money belongs to me, you cheat.”
My lip quivers and I turn my head defiantly. He releases my throat and stands up, throwing my wallet onto my chest.
“Get lost,” He grumbles, turning on his heel and walking away.
The bouncer stands over me, his hands on his hips. “You have to leave, kid.”
“He took my money,” I whisper, swallowing back the painful lump in my throat. He took everything…
“I can’t help you with that. You aren’t even supposed to be in here. Don’t make me call the police.” He says, his tail jerking towards the exit.
I sniffle and wipe my face with my sleeve, hiding the tears that betrayed my command to not fall, standing up. “Okay.” I whisper.
I brush off my jeans and head for the door, defeat overcoming my body. I shove through the door and feel the cold air hit my wet face, but I’m too devastated to bother covering up. Hell, I deserve this pain. I took my chances, and I lost all of my money. I make my way down the sidewalk, kicking rocks in my path as I head towards home. I could probably go somewhere else and try to gain back the money I lost, but lord knows that the bouncer will spread the word. All of the good gambling places will be aware of me now. Out of rage, I rip out my fake ID and chuck it into the alley to my left, holding back my screams.
How can I disappoint my brother like this, I mutter inside my own head.
I shove my cold fingers into my pockets and start to run, my feet slapping the pavement as I head home. My brain is filled with different ways that scenario could have gone, but I shove it away. Why dwell on it if I can’t change it?
After running for a while, my chest begins to burn and my ankles begin to hurt, but most of all, the tears start to fall again. I stop on the sidewalk, bending over with my hands on my knees as I squeeze my eyes shut. My chest heaves, but I try to play it off like I’m trying to catch my breath. In reality, I’m struggling to hold back a sob.
I just lost all of my money to a thief. Everything I needed to save Gabriel’s life…
I ball my fist and bring it up to my mouth, biting down on my knuckle as I struggle to control my breathing. Minutes pass before I hear a car horn honk beside me, and I look up. A cab is pulled up beside me.
“Need a ride?” The driver asks. He’s smiling kindly, his black eyes soft as they look at me. He’s a banhee.
“I don’t have any money,” I say, standing up and putting my arms out wide to show my defeat. I don’t bother hiding my tear streaked face.
His expression falls, noticing my expression. Seeing the pity on his face nearly made me start to cry again. “It’s alright. How far away do you live?”
“Not too far, by car. Just outside of the city.”
“I can give you a ride. No charge,” He nods, smiling again.
I sigh, rubbing my cold cheeks with my hands. “Are you sure?”
I pull open the back door and slide in, quietly closing it behind me. “Thanks.” I mutter.
“No problem,” He nods. “What’s your address?”
“Drop me off at Five-Two.”
He pulls the car out into traffic and I lean my head against the window, closing my eyes as the heater blows warmth onto my face. Thoughts begin to fill my mind again and I bite down on my lip, swallowing back the lump in my throat. I take a deep breath and try to focus on the heat blowing from the vents, but to no avail. I feel the tears creeping up on me again at the thought of losing my brother.
However much longer, The car slows and he pulls off to the side, turning in his seat to look at me. “Here?”
I nod, stepping out of the cab as I look down the road that I had hitchhiked on this morning. “Thanks.”
“Have a better day,” He smiles and waves goodbye.
I do the same, simply out of courtesy. Then I wait to hear the gravel crunch beneath the tires as he drives away before I start to head down the road. Luckily, I’m close enough to home already. The cold slaps my freshly warmed cheeks and I flip up the collar of my jacket again, tucking my face into it as I walk. I take a deep breath and look down at the pavement as I walk, counting my own footsteps as a distraction.
But something out of the corner of my eyes catches my attention. A flash of white, noticeable against the pale brown and red of the autumn trees. I squint my eyes, looking into the trees for another sign of whatever I saw. I step off of the road, closer to the line of forest that surrounds our house. I glance over, seeing my front porch, then I look back at the trees. For a millisecond, I see the flash of white again, but it’s perfectly enough to give me an excuse to wander into the woods. No need to go see my brother and inform him of my failure yet.
The leaves crunch under my feet as I step beneath the forest. I duck under low hanging branches and avoid fallen trees, my eyes searching eagerly for another glimpse of what I’d seen.
“Hello?” I call out by instinct, tentatively grabbing onto a branch to balance myself as I step over a mossy log.
I don’t get a response, but I push further into the forest, breathing down the front of my jacket as goosebumps begin to chill my skin.
“Is anyone out here?” I shout, my voice betraying me by shaking.
I hear a rustle of leaves to my left and I jerk my head in that direction. I see a bundle of white, but then I notice that there’s black as well. I squint my eyes, unable to tell what I’m looking at exactly. I make my way towards it cautiously.
“Um, hello?” I call out again. “I swear, if I’m talking to an animal…” I mutter to myself.
The ball of white and black shifts a little, making the leaves rustle. But then, a head pops out from inside the ball. I gasp involuntarily, my hand flying to my chest as my heart skips a beat. The guy’s head turns to me, his grey eyes studying me. I’m struck by his beauty, the high cheekbones and perfect contour of his face, nose, lips, and jaw. His snow white hair is messy, swishing in many directions with leaves tangled in a few strands.
“Who are you?” The guy asks, his voice warm and inviting.
I stay put, unsure of myself. “Um, my name is Greyson. What are you doing in my yard?”
“This is your home?” He asks, ignoring my question.
“Yes, it is. Who are you?” I ask.
“My name is Benjamin,” He says, looking around nervously at the forest before turning his attention back to me. “Do you live alone?”
“Um, I live with my brother..” I trail off, confused by what he’s getting at.
“What Is your brother’s name?”
His eyes go wide for a moment, his expression skeptical. “Are you an angel? Where are your wings?”
My eyebrows scrunch. “What? Angel’s are a myth, dude. And no, I’m not an angel, neither is my brother.”
“Angel’s are not a myth,” He snaps, seemingly offended. “Can you not see that I’m right here?”
“What?” I say simply.
He grunts and grabs onto a branch, beginning to rise. He stands up straight, at least he tries, and I realize that the ball of white and black isn’t actually a ball, they’re wings. I gasp as he stretches them out, showing off the glorious feathers. The left wing is as white as virgin snowfall, and the right as black as a starless midnight sky. I’m in absolute shock.
“Listen, I need help. I’m injured, you see-” He begins, but I interrupt.
“Holy cow shit,” I gasp. “You’re an angel! A real one! Oh my god!” I cover my mouth. “Oh wait, is that offensive?”
He scowls. “No, hush for a moment, please.”
“My bad,” I take a deep breath and hold it in, waiting for him to speak again. His voice is so smooth and seductive.
“I’m in need of housing,” He says,leaning against a tree heavily. “Do you mind if I stay with you and this Gabriel?”
“Wait, why don’t you just fly home? Why are you out here?” I ask.
“I can’t fly. I’ll explain things to you inside. Please, I’m exhausted from all this walking,” He groans.
“I- uh- sure!” I stammer, my excitement getting the best of me. I would never usually invite a stranger into my home, but this guy is an angel, for christ sake. Wait, let me not say that.
I hobble over to him as quickly as I can without tripping over my own feet, and I step up to his side, prepared to let him use me as a crutch. He catches the hint and slings his arm over my shoulder, leaning against me as I begin to lead him towards my home. His wings drag behind him, stirring up the leaves as we walk.