Duffy stared at me, his mouth hanging open.
“Which one? Your girl or Miss Gibson?” He must have thought I’d gone completely crazy. In actuality, I hadn’t. Not yet, at least.
“Miss Gibson,” I said. I knew exactly what to shoot the teacher with. I dug out a silvery purple bullet and stuffed it into one of my six shooters and in the other I loaded a weird rubber bullet called a Flat Tire. Then I waited.
“We should be getting your girl out of here,” Duffy said.
“Sneaking around is for demons,” I said, taking aim. “Katelyn got herself into this mess, and I’m going to help her get out of it. The right way.”
There was no time to argue. Miss Gibson walked into her classroom, a half eaten sandwich in one hand and math books under her arm. She took one look at Katelyn and about dropped everything.
I shot Katelyn with the Flat Tire first. She was still staring at her phone and her lack of reaction was freaking me out. The rubber bullet blasted into the front of her shirt making a sound like an engine backfiring or a tire blowing on the freeway. It jolted her back into reality.
“Katelyn Cody!” Miss Gibson snapped. She had her teacher face back on and a look in her eyes that could peel paint off a wall. “What are you doing in my desk?”
“I…I…” Katelyn gasped. She had no words. I should have hit her with a Vocabulary shell. Live and learn. Duffy watched, his eyes wide, as I lifted my other gun, aimed and pulled. I hit Miss Gibson square in the heart. The smoke trailing out the barrel had a hint of lavender to it. Miss Gibson strode to the desk and snatched the phone out of Katelyn’s hands.
“Oh good. For a second there I thought you were going to actually kill her,” Duffy said, relieved.
“I did. I killed her with kindness,” I said holstering my guns. A Killer was one of my favorites. I never had enough of them because I used them the most.
“It doesn’t look like it’s working,” Duffy said.
“It will. Give it a minute.” A Killer took a while to kick in depending on the level of harshness in a heart. For example, I think it would take more rounds than I had available to shoot the meanness out of Becca. I was still toying with the idea of knocking her out with an Epic Epidermal. It was tempting.
Unfortunately, Miss Gibson wasn’t quick on the uptake. She pocketed the phone and ordered Katelyn to sit down.
“You, young lady, are in big trouble. What were you thinking, breaking into my desk?”
Katelyn could only stare at the bulge in Miss Gibson’s pocket where her phone was. Her mouth moved, but nothing came out.
“Not only am I going to keep your phone until the end of the week, I now expect you in my classroom to correct quizzes during lunch and for an hour after school.”
“What?” I exclaimed. “What is wrong with this Mortal?”
“Too many years of lying, cheating kids, if you ask me,” Duffy said. “It makes a person harder than you’d expect.”
“But the picture. If she’d just look at the picture, she’d totally understand…” I was sputtering as Katelyn just sat there.
“Yes, ma’am,” she whispered.
Miss Gibson dismissed her and Duffy and I followed her out. Once Katelyn got free of the door, she ran.
“That did not go as planned,” I said.
“Did you get the phone?” Phil said.
“Not only did we not get the phone, Katelyn got in school detention added to her community service,” Duffy said.
“Chop,” Min dope slapped his forehead with the flat edge of his blade.
“Come on, guys,” I said. “We can turn this around. Think!”
“That photo already hit the net, Gideon. It’d take nothing short of a miracle to turn it around,” Duffy said.
I punched Duffy in the arm. “Exactly! Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Because you have head problems?” Duffy kidded.
I jogged down the hall just as Miss Gibson burst out of her classroom calling after Katelyn. Over my shoulder I caught sight of the math teacher with Katelyn’s phone in her hand. She’d seen the picture, finally. The Killer kicked in, but it was two minutes too late. Katelyn was already gone.
I found Anna in the exact spot on the benches in the front hall where I’d left her this morning. She hadn’t moved at all as she snored with her head hanging over the side of the bench and her white blond hair piled up on the floor. She’d been out cold for hours.
I skidded to a stop on my knees at her side. Shaking wouldn’t wake her and the last time I shot her, she punched me. Then again, shooting was the fastest way…
I checked my ammo pouch, and both belts. I had one last Panic Button left and I loaded it up. I really didn’t want to shoot her, but I slapped the barrel shut anyway and took aim. Actually, I backed up first and shielded body parts I didn’t want punched.
“I just want to apologize in advance,” I said. I grimaced away from her, scrunching my eyes shut. She warned me last time; she’d beat me up if I shot her again. If there were a surefire way to wake her up, I’d do it in a heartbeat. “But it’s time to wake up. I need a miracle.”
I squeezed the trigger, but the gun didn’t go off. Anna’s foot shot out and kicked it from my hand. I ducked just in time to miss the solid punch to the face, but didn’t get away in time to miss her fist sinking into my gut.
“Oof! All right! I surrender!” I shouted.
“Gideon?” Anna rubbed the sleep from her eyes and blinked a few times to get me into focus. “Oh, it is you. Sorry. Here—,” She picked up my gun and handed it to me.
“No problem. You called for a miracle?”
“So that’s how I get you awake,” I said, clutching my gut. I was still winded. She had an awesome uppercut. I got my gun holstered, but I wasn’t going to be walking upright for another minute or two.
“That and threaten to shoot me,” she said.
“I apologized,” I said, straightening slowly. “In advance even.”
“I heard,” she said, unrepentant. “Or dreamed it. I think…”
“And for some reason, I still like you for it,” I groaned. At long last, Anna patted me on the back.
“Deep breaths,” she coaxed. “What do you need?”
I gave Anna the shortened version of Katelyn’s picture situation. “It has hit pretty much every phone in the school.”
“I need your help,” I said. Anna nodded, but it looked as if she was going to drop off again. She was rocking lightly back on her heels and automatically I reached for her in case she fell. There was no need. Her eyes opened, which, I am not kidding, was like looking into the endless depths of a crystal clear pool of water. For a brief second, Anna didn’t look fifteen, but ageless as if eons of time had passed and she’d seen it all… or slept through it at least.
She studied me for a long moment. “Are you sure everyone at school has seen the picture?”
“Pretty much everyone,” I said. “Who doesn’t have a phone these days?”
“Think, Gideon. I only need one.”
I snapped my fingers. There was one. “I destroyed this kid’s phone yesterday. There’s no way it’d be fixed by now.”
“You go around randomly shooting phones?” Anna shook her head. “Never mind. Name. I need a name.”
She had to be kidding. I was the king of forgetting names and I blanked as if on cue. “Well, he’s average height, with kind of blondish brown hair… maybe.”
Anna said a prayer under her breath because it was obvious I was not helpful.
“He sits behind my Mortal in her Math class,” I said trying to drum up any memory of that boy I had.
“I’ll need a little more than that to go on, Gideon,” Anna said.
“I’ve got it! He was stuck at school yesterday and couldn’t call a ride. Remember him?”
“Greg?” Anna said.
“Sure. That could be his name. He kind of looks like a Greg,” I said, crossing my fingers and hoping it was the right kid.
“Okay, I can work with Greg. Now all we need to do is find Greg and have him cross paths with Katelyn,” Anna said, rubbing wearily at her forehead. “Get Katelyn out behind the school in ten minutes and I’ll bring Greg.”
I watched Anna stumble down the hall and I grabbed her arm before she nodded off mid-stride.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you?” I said. I really needed this miracle and Anna didn’t look awake enough to pull it off.
“Totally,” she said drowsily. “I got this.”
“Okay. See you in ten.” I kind of doubted she’d make it, but I had to have hope. I had no other options. I ran down the hall opposite Anna where I’d seen Katelyn last. Tracking her down wasn’t that hard. On the way out the side door I found a sheet of homework and just outside the door was a book with her name on it. She was escaping and she left me a trail to follow. I found her back pack under the bleachers and deep under the press box was Katelyn, curled up in a ball, crying.
I checked my watch. I had time. Technically she was “behind the school” as Anna had asked for, so at least I had that part down. Katelyn wasn’t visible from the sidewalk, but if I got her out of her hiding place, Greg could run into her.
I pulled up a seat next to her on the gravel and let her get it out. I could handle crying. In fact, I was darn good at helping Mortals via tear duct release. After Becca’s picture of her got splattered to every phone in Muddy Gap, Katelyn was overdue for a good long cry.
I rubbed my hands together. It was time to bring on the awesomeness of the Guardians.
“It’s not always going to be this bad,” I said as I put an arm around her shoulders. I knew she couldn’t feel or hear me, but deep down her sub-conscious was registering I was there.
“Man, I really mucked things up for you, didn’t I,” I said. “Talk about worst Tuesday ever. Of course, it doesn’t help that it’s my fault you’re in this predicament in the first place.”
Katelyn’s crying escalated as if seeing that picture of herself had physically hurt. Becca didn’t have to hit Katelyn to leave a mark.
“I’m so sorry. If you only knew the truth, maybe this wouldn’t hurt as bad,” I said. “It won’t last forever. Things will get better, I promise.”
I cringed. It had to get better or I was going to be in some serious hot poo with The Boss. I was messing with this Mortal’s life in a pretty big way, but I was trying to make it better, not worse. Carefully, I pulled a wet strand of hair away from her face. This Mortal deserved the best Guardian the Corps could provide and the guilt I felt only escalated knowing that. I took a deep breath. I could do this. I wrapped my arms around her.
“You can get through this,” I whispered in her ear. “You are strong and I can help you get through hard things. That, I can promise with all my heart.”
The tension in Katelyn’s shoulders relaxed a fraction. I rechecked my watch. Anna and Greg were due any minute, that is, if Anna was still awake.
“Look, it’s time you got up,” I said, searching for an appropriate shell in my ammo belt. “I’ve got this pretty amazing and seriously hot Miracle Worker friend who is going to use her considerable skill on you. I don’t know what she’s got planned…so, that alone is going to be interesting, but when she’s awake, she is amazing.”
I took a deep breath and sent a prayer to Headquarters. I found the shell I needed and loaded it up. Katelyn wasn’t interested in moving and I was running out of time.
“In fact, sometimes just keeping her awake feels like a miracle,” I chatted on as I spun the barrel until it clicked, “but by chance she manages to keep her eyes open, I am sure she’s got a grenade or bomb… heck, I’ll take flipping snap cracker if it works. You just need to get off your butt.”
My Mortal was not interested at all in moving her butt anywhere, which meant I was going to shoot it. I aimed for her backside and pulled the trigger.
“That should do the trick,” I said. I blew the smoke from the barrel and holstered my gun. It only took about a minute for the discomfort of sitting on the cold grown on lumpy gravel to get to Katelyn. She shifted uncomfortably for a moment before she decided that duking out her feelings while on the ground wasn’t a prime idea.
“And she’s on the move,” I said as I mimicked the sound of a crowd cheering while she rolled to her feet and got up.
Katelyn sniffed heavily and when she lifted her head it looked as if she needed an entire box of Kleenex’s to contain the fluid release. When she tried to wipe away the mess on her face, it was clear her jacket sleeve wasn’t going to cover it.
“Oh my, you don’t look so great,” I said. Katelyn grimaced at the trail of snot on her sleeve, further convincing herself it was time to move. I followed her half way out from under the bleachers when Greg burst out of the back of the school with Anna close behind, thank The Boss!
“What do you want, Greg?” Katelyn was mad, understandably, and Anna had to give Greg an encouraging shove forward. If someone snapped at me like that, I’d want to run off too.
“I…I was just on my way to class,” Greg said, stupidly. “We’ve got Biology together, remember?”
“I’m not going,” Katelyn said, pushing past him back into the school. In his hands he had her assignment and book she’d dropped. He scrambled for her backpack and ran after her.
“Anna, this isn’t going so great,” I said. “Unless this was what you had planned.”
“No it’s not, but the cherry bomb I used on him is time released. You showed up a minute too soon,” Anna said as she grabbed my arm and muscled me after them. In the school, Katelyn was trying to get her locker open.
“If you’re skipping class then I’m coming with you,” Greg said. “I need a day off anyway.”
“I don’t want company, Greg,” Katelyn snapped. “I just want to be alone.”
Greg didn’t say anything, but he handed her the book and assignment. His face was set. He was going to stick it out, no matter how rude she was to him.
“Wow, what did you bomb him with?” I said to Anna.
“It’s a potent mixture of chemical reactions I call a Doggy. It’s eighty percent loyalty and twenty percent determination. You’d be amazed how many Mortals make their own miracles with sheer willpower,” Anna said proudly.
“Nice,” I said.
But Katelyn wasn’t having any of it.
“Beat it, Greg. I’m serious. You don’t want to be around a f-freak,” Katelyn said. Tears welled up again in her eyes.
“Freak?” Greg said. Thank goodness Greg leaned heavily on the side of clueless.
“Quick! This is where you come in,” Anna said as she grabbed one of my guns out of the holster and shoved it into my hands. “Shoot him before he gets a good look at her.”
I grabbed a pearly pink shell and loaded it up. A Rose Tint was small shell that glossed over the harsher parts of life. I usually reserved it for Mortals who had a rough life, but it worked great on boys when they finally notice girls for the first time.
Katelyn needed a little help. Her eyes and nose were red and she had an unsightly smear of snot on her upper lip. Crying was messy business. Greg looked up just in time for me to nail him right between the eyes. His greenish brown eyes glossed over a faint pink as the Tint took. Anna and I held our breath, not daring to blink. We watched the exchange like a tennis match.
“You’re not a freak,” Greg said.
“You didn’t get the text from Becca?” Katelyn said.
“Becca is a cow,” Greg said bluntly.
“I like this kid,” I whispered to Anna who shushed me so we could hear what was said next.
“Besides, my phone is busted,” Greg shrugged. “I haven’t been getting texts from anybody.”
“Well, once you see what she posted about my hair, you’ll think otherwise,” Katelyn said. She was on the verge of another good cry and her chin trembled.
I slipped another shell into the chamber, but Anna grabbed the barrel before I could aim.
“What are you doing?” she hissed.
“It’s just a Chill Pill,” I whispered back. “She’s taking his head off.”
“Her guard is about to drop. Wait for it,” Anna said.
Anna and I froze, waiting for Greg’s reply.
“I like it short.” Greg’s face went almost purple he was blushing so bad.
Anna and I looked to Katelyn, waiting on pins and needles.
“You do?” Katelyn said.
“Yeah. I think you look good.” Greg shrugged like her hair was no big deal.
“T-thanks.” To top it off, Katelyn finally smiled.
I jumped and punched my fist in the air, whooping like a banshee. “Yes! That’s more like it. Why didn’t I hook these two up earlier? He is a way better friend the Becca any day.”
“Probably because you didn’t ask me,” Anna said. “Greg’s been trying to get up the guts to talk to Katelyn for months. I’ve been meaning to rig his locker with a bomb, but…yeah. I slept through that one.”
I wanted to celebrate. For once, and finally, I’d done something remotely right. Well, close to it. Anna was the one who saved the day, but I wasn’t keeping score. Katelyn smiled for the first time since I met her.
“So, if you are still skipping school,” Greg said. “Can I be invited now?”
“Wait a sec,” I said. I deflated instantaneously. “No skipping school. Stay in school. You’re supposed to stay…”
I bolted after Greg and Katelyn as they walked straight back out the door again. Anna came with me.
“Hit them with a Voice of Reason,” Anna said.
“I wish I had one,” I said. “Duffy took all mine and shot himself with them. I’m all out!”
“He does that to everybody. I suppose I could mix something up,” Anna said. She ripped open her jacket and began searching through her pockets. “A flash bomb or bottle rocket might work…”
Anna stopped mid-sentence, her face in a panic. “Oh no. I feel it coming on…” Anna had officially gotten to the end of her span of awake time. She made a wild dash for the lawn instead of the hard cement to fall on. Her feet dragged wearily and she was going down.
“Not again!” I dove for her, catching her around the stomach and giving her sleep whiplash thanks to gravity. I almost dropped her. “Demon guts,” I grunted. “You’re getting heavy.”
Uh oh. I really hoped Anna wouldn’t dream that comment. It wasn’t the best thing I could say, or ever should say, to a girl.
“Not that you’re fat, because you’re not,” I said quickly. “You look fine. Not that I was looking. Geez! You’re knocked out and I’m talking to you like you’re wide-awake. I’ve lost it. I’ve officially lost it.”
I flipped Anna on her back and tossed her over my shoulder, again. There had to be a better way to do this. I never knew when she’d drop next and winging it every time she threatened to face plant wasn’t working. Anna giggled in her sleep.
Katelyn and Greg were headed to the parking lot and I had to find a place to put Anna so she could sleep it off somewhere safe. The temperature was dropping and the last of autumn was on its way out. I wasn’t an expert, but it felt like snow.
I was considering just taking Anna with me after my Mortals, but a flare went up over the school, bright white, and burst into a shower of sparks.
An angel was in trouble.