I watched Eugene's face go blank as he thought back. Way back.
"Hungry?" Azalea looked over at Nathan, her green eyes worried. Nathan shook his head and tugged at the end of his baggy sleeves.
"You're never hungry." Riley accused Nathan, and the sound of his voice made me jump. It had been a long day, and Riley and Nathan sometimes had the worst of it. Riley would close himself off from everyone, while Nathan went days without eating.
Rosemary looked at Nathan, and then her gaze went to her younger sister Caroline. Caroline's blue-green eyes went to Rosemary, and she automatically moved to her side. She nudged Rosemary's shoulder with hers and Rosemary looked down.
"Sorry." She mumbled.
Caroline tried to be positive. "Don't worry about it. It's been a long day."
"Long day is right." Azalea sighed, going to the refrigerator to find a bottle of alcohol. "Three suicides that I couldn't stop."
"A little boy died today." Nathan said softly. "He was hungry. So I am not."
Riley added his own share of bad news. "Someone lied to their mother about going to a party. They were drugged and now their mother's looking for them."
Michael looked at everyone's crestfallen faces. "A gambler lost his house trying to pay off his dues. He's got loan sharks after him."
Eugene's light brown hazelish eyes blinked as he became more aware of where he was. When he stopped reliving the past. "That girl who got kidnapped, Riley, she's lied to the kidnappers about being a single child. They're trying to find her sister."
I groaned and put my head in my hands.
"What is it, Punz?" Azalea asked sadly. There was always someone we couldn't save.
"Her sister cuts." I spoke, and cleared my throat. I didn't like talking too much. Seeing people hurt themselves seemed to take away my will to speak. "She's attempted suicide twice. She's going nuts without her sister."
It was quiet while we all tried to brace ourselves for another day.
We saved many people from despair, but there was always someone we couldn't save.
We all had our issues with that aspect.
Whenever Nathan saw a starving child or even an obese person walking down the street, he wouldn't want to eat anything for days. When Azalea couldn't save someone from committing suicide, she turned to drinking to chase the pain away.
When Michael saw people throw their lives away, the saddest mood would lapse over him. He had to start taking depression aids to bring him back. Eugene couldn't sleep when someone lied, and the sleep aids weren't working.
Rosemary was clingy when she'd watch people argue. Especially the parents. She was the one who would wake the children up to try and make their parents stop arguing. She would always be by one of us if the child stayed asleep, or worse yet, join the argument and take up one parent's side.
Riley couldn't stand secrets, and because of him, we were all honest. Whenever someone lied, and Riley couldn't get them to tell the person that they had fibbed, Riley would close off. From us.
Caroline had a problem with cliques, being the guardian of loyalty, and she stayed away from high schools. The one time she went, trying to stop a disaster from happening with a group of girls trying to fight one girl, she came back in hysterics.
Me? I was mute. I chose to. With every intentional slash of the knife on someone's skin, knowing that they put it there to bring themselves back from a world of pain, it made me sick to my stomach. It made me silent.
Unfortunately, we were all this way too often.
Rosemary was always clingy, Eugene was having nightmares, Nathan was always not eating. Riley was reserved, Michael was moody, and Azalea was drunk.
Some guardians we were.
"I wish I could remember sometimes." Riley said. The sound of his voice made me look up. It had been two days since our sharing of bad news. It had soiled our moods even more, and we all stayed silent around each other.
"I know." Azalea said wistfully, and the sunlight that filtered in the leaves made her black hair shine blue. "I have dreams sometimes."
"You do?" Riley sat up on the couch urgently. Only a few of us had extra talents. Like the first "talents" weren't enough. Riley's dreams could see a day into the future, hence why he was the guardian of intuition.
"I can see myself trying to. . . Help someone, I think. They're being hurt right in front of me, and I'm trying to fight the person who's hurting them." Azalea said her explanation again. This was how we figured out what she guarded. She was the guardian of sacrifice.
"Nothing changes?" Riley remembered her words, and I saw disappointment cloud his face.
Azalea shook her head, and Riley's bright blue eyes went to me. "Anything?"
"I don't dream." I said, and Nathan shook his head in denial.
"Everyone dreams." He said, munching on his salad.
"Maybe I forget them." I said, a little crestfallen. How nice it must be. To fall asleep and see beautiful things.
What was more beautiful than our tree house in the Amazon? I looked at the smooth wood walls and floors. The marble countertops of the kitchen and the colorful rugs that we had found Azalea with. She couldn't remember sewing, but every time we asked, she insisted that the rugs were hers.
Caroline's blond hair nipped my face as she ran past me. "I got it!"
Riley looked over at her. "Got what? An irritated friend?"
"What?" Caroline froze in her tracks.
Riley pointed at me and I rubbed my face to rub the redness away.
"I'm not mad." I murmured, and Caroline looked at Riley.
"Riley?" She arched one eyebrow, a talent I wished I possessed.
"You have what?" Riley asked, and Caroline's mind backtracked. He grinned at me, and Azalea snickered; Riley could easily distract someone.
"I figured out how to beat Eugene at ping-pong!" Caroline beamed.
I sat up straight. "That's impossible."
"It's true." Caroline hiccupped. "Rosemary just beat him."
Eugene walked into the room, his head hung and Rosemary danced in behind him. "Eugene is now beaten."
I looked at Rosemary. "But I can beat you at ping-pong."
Everyone laughed at the surprised expression that sprang on Rosemary's face. Michael had been cleaning the windows in front of the kitchen the entire time and peeked around the corner of the fridge. "Punzie, you can't be serious."
Punzie was a shorter version of Rapunzel. I couldn't remember my name. I thought it started with an R. I had always grown my hair so long and Azalea had called me 'Rapunzel' once, thinking it had been my name.
It stuck with me, though that had been decades ago.
"I beat her once." I admitted quietly.
It was quiet for half a second.
"I challenge you to a match!" Nathan said to Azalea, and I saw her flush. Living with each other so long, some of us became more than friends. Nathan and Azalea were smitten with each other, though they tried not to show it. Rosemary and Riley displayed their affection gently, from holding hands to kissing in the music room.
Michael and Caroline would go on long walks to the river and sometimes they wouldn't walk there. Eugene and I? Well. . .
I had no idea sometimes.
"Challenge accepted." Azalea grinned, and Rosemary winked at me.
"You know, Azalea, I have a shirt that says that." Caroline smiled. She and Michael could fly. I had never seen them take off, but one time Caroline had flown through my window practicing. She nor Michael had wings, but they always had a feather with them. Caroline had hers in her hair, and Michael's was visible from one of the front pockets of his jeans.
I couldn't fly, only glide. I used my long blond hair, though it sometimes turned brown after a hard day, as a parachute. I could jump from the tree house and grab the ends of my hair to land softly.
Rosemary, Riley, and Azalea couldn't fly either. They could hover on a good day, when we –these rarely happen- save everyone we aimed to. They could hover over the ground, and one time, Riley touched one of the clouds in the sky.
Nathan could jump as high as fifty feet in the air, but on an empty stomach, he'd be unconscious on the way down.
Eugene was the only one who was closest to flying with Caroline and Michael. He was the guardian of honesty, and could only rely on us telling him he could fly. We had to believe in the power of flight, and Eugene could fly as high as a kite.
"Hey, Carol?" I asked and she looked at me as we followed Azalea and Nathan into the game room. "Do you have wings?"
Caroline's blue-green eyes glowed with life. "One day, I'll show you, Angel."
I still had no way of understanding why they all sometimes called me angel.
Was it because of my long blond hair?
My confusion must had shown on my face because Caroline smiled gently at me. "You have white streaks around your face in your hair, and when you smile, I can imagine a halo."
I sighed. I'd never see them.
"Do you look in a mirror, Punz?" Caroline asked, and I shook my head. "Why?"
I never looked in a mirror because of the children I'd watch hurt themselves. If I looked in a mirror, I'd see myself cut up, the fresh cuts oozing blood while old scars were highlighted against my skin. I looked in a mirror one time, and I screamed loud enough that I nearly made everyone's eardrums explode. That was also right around the time I stopped talking.
"Ask Rosemary to be there with you." Caroline said soothingly. Rosemary was the guardian of strength.
"Ask Riley to watch Nathan." Riley could see Nathan not eating in his dreams if he wanted to. Nathan was the guardian of discipline, and he loved being around army bases. But Nathan couldn't make himself eat. It was ironic in a twistedly sad way.
"Michael knows what Nathan's doing." Caroline said sadly. Of course Michael would. He was the guardian of knowledge, and libraries were his kingdoms. He knew everything that went around in the tree house. Not in the world though. He only gained knowledge of that by watching TV or reading the newspapers.
"It makes me sad." I sighed, and looked around. Caroline had guided me into the studio. My studio, though we all shared it. The studio had a collection of instruments. One of Michael's harps, a piano, Caroline's clarinet, Riley's violin, Rosemary's cello, Azalea's flute, Nathan's harmonica. I didn't have a particular instrument, though I loved the piano. Eugene admired the drums we had, and I found him practicing songs a few times.
"It would. You watch him become less and less innocent. You watch him lose himself." Caroline sighed. I was the guardian of innocence, and newborn babies were amazing to me. You could see the innocence pouring off of them in little white waves. I saw halos on newborn babies.
They were the angels.
"Punz, Carol, I won!" Azalea exploded into the studio. She started hiccupping with laughter when Nathan's voice asking for a rematch reached us. "No rematch! I beat you!"
"Eugene tripped me!"
"Eugene!" Azalea whined.
Caroline and I started laughing, and shooed Azalea back into the game room. We followed her inside, and the sight of happiness on my friend's faces made me smile.
If we couldn't save everyone, we could at least save each other.