This is something else out of my archives, written ages ago when I was on the cusp of maturity but Not Quite There Yet.

I think it is hilariously over-the-top melodramatic, but it sure is fun to reminisce on how my writing skills have changed over the years.

The heartache gripped her again, painfully constricting her throat as she watched the familiar scene pass her by for the last time. She wasn’t going back. She knew that no matter how her parents reacted, she couldn’t force herself back into the world that they had chosen for her. Yet she grieved at how badly she had failed their expectations.

Angel was now officially a college dropout. After two years, she succumbed to the overwhelming anxiety and depression produced by homework and exams, and admitted to herself that she couldn’t do it. Higher education just wasn’t meant to be part of her.

Her parents had pushed her into enrolling that first Autumn, despite the doubts that she had tried to share with them. They provided her with very little financial support, and made it clear that her continuing to live with them was dependent on her going to school. The thought caused Angel’s throat to hurt again. How was she going to survive? Another thought, dark and unwanted, hoped for a catastrophic falling out, leaving her free from their cold demands.

She was frightened. She was excited. She had asserted herself, and the ax was now poised to fall. It was comforting to know that her parents were away for the weekend, giving her time to collect herself before being struck by the blow.

Thoroughly distracted by the conflicting emotions surging through her, Angel got up automatically when the bus pulled over, and stepped off. As it drove away, she looked around her for the first time, then realized that she had gotten off too early. It would be a long walk to her house. With a sigh, she started down the street.

The sun was touching the western horizon, adding deeper golden tones to the yellow Autumn leaves. Although Angel enjoyed the stillness of the moment, she was worried that it would be dark soon. She had never been outside alone after dark, and didn’t know what to expect, other than the horror stories that her mother had told her. She berated herself for messing up again.

By the time she reached the bridge, the sun had fully set and the streetlights were flickering on. Angel’s heart was pounding, and she was glad to reach the landmark that signified that she was only a mile away from home. During the day she would often come to the bridge to watch the river flowing by, but at night the place seemed menacing. The river was dark, and seemed louder and swifter. Angel stopped in the middle of the bridge, and followed the compulsion to look down into the unknown. The sound of water seemed to deafen her, and for a moment she wanted to throw herself into the swirling depths, unconsciously stepping onto the bottom rung of the rail to lean over farther, yearning to answer the call from below her. Realizing what she was doing, she pushed herself forcefully away from the edge, then turned and hit something soft and warm. She stood stunned, and only when the figure spoke did she realize that it was a person.

“Pardon me,” a deep voice resonated, and Angel’s cheeks burned red as she quickly stepped back.

“Pardon me,” she repeated with a weak voice, then quickly tried to dodge around the man to continue on her way home. He caught her arm in his hand.

“Are you all right?” he asked. Angel avoided looking at him, focusing on his shiny black shoes.

“Yes, I’m fine,” she answered quickly, making a slight attempt to pull away. “Please, let me go.”

He watched her silently for a moment, his hand never relaxing. Angel began to quietly panic, certain that the horror stories she had grown up with were about to come true. After a moment, the stranger said, “I’m certain that you aren’t telling me the truth. A moment ago you acted like you wanted to commit suicide, and now you look like you’re about to faint. Tell me the truth now: are you all right?”

Something in his words made Angel look up with a start, and their eyes met. He wasn’t old, though Angel couldn’t guess what his age was, and his face was stern. His black hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and his eyes were dark. He scared and exhilarated Angel all at once, causing her heart to leap and burn with unfamiliar sensations. She felt driven by some unknown force to obey him.

“No, not really,” she said, and he let her go, keeping her in place with his gaze.

“What has you so frightened?” His voice commanded the same obedience; stern, calculating, but not unfriendly or harsh.

Angel’s bottom lip trembled. She was ashamed of the fearful thoughts that raced through her mind, and of the failures that the day’s events culminated in. Even though she badly wanted to, she couldn’t open up to this man. She didn’t have the strength to.

“Don’t cry,” he said in a much softer tone. “It’s okay if you can’t tell me.” Angel nodded, but her refusal to relax perturbed the man. He stared off into the distance, frowning slightly, before saying, “I’m going to get you something to eat to make this up to you. I had no intention of making you feel worse, and it’s now my obligation to fix it.”

“No, no.” Angel resisted feebly. She liked the idea that he had proposed, but she felt like she couldn’t accept it. After she said the words, however, she realized that choosing to drop out of college had changed the course of her life, and that after rebelling against her parents’ wishes in that regard, there was no reason for her to keep following them in this case either. She liked the man, and the way that he exuded strength and self-assurance. She liked that he had noticed her. So, after a pause, she said, “Yes.”

“Are there any places that you would like to go?” he asked.

Angel thought for a moment. There was a diner nearby that she liked, though she had only been there a couple of times before. She gave the name of it and pointed in its general direction, then felt embarrassed for choosing such a casual place. The man was dressed too nicely to want to go to somewhere like that, but he didn’t seem to mind at all. He set off down the sidewalk, then looked back and summoned Angel to follow with his eyes.

“My name is Murrich,” he said as they went.

“Angel,” she replied.

“Very fitting.” Murrich glanced over at her, and Angel blushed.

“I-I bleach my hair,” she stammered. “It’s naturally dark blonde.”

“Your eyes are a beautiful shade of blue.”

She didn’t know how to reply, so she didn’t say anything at all. Murrich seemed to understand how uncomfortable she felt, and remained silent. Their footfalls echoed as they walked, and a cold night breeze pierced through Angel’s sweater, causing her to shiver. He took off his long coat, and draped it over her shoulders. She liked the way it smelled.

When they reached the diner, Murrich held open the door and Angel scurried inside then waited. After a quick glance around, he led her to a booth by the window and motioned for her to sit down, before taking his place across the table from her. The waitress came a minute later, handing them menus and saying something that Angel didn’t quite understand, though she nodded anyway before burying her face in the menu.

“Can I get a dessert?” she asked, then felt childish for doing so. She was worried that she was coming across as immature and needy, and she didn’t want him to dislike her. For some strange reason, she felt that his opinion of her mattered more than anyone else’s.

“You may.” She couldn’t read his tone at all. “Have you thought about what to drink?”

“Chocolate milk.” She was being childish again. Angel hated herself for acting that way. Everyone told her that she was supposed to be strong and mature, but she couldn’t force herself to be something that she didn’t feel. She was inexperienced and easily overwhelmed, so that was the best that she could do.

“Tell me when you decide which dessert you would like.” Murrich looked at her. “I’ll order for you.”

Relief swept through Angel, and she liked Murrich even more for saying that. He was acting like a buffer for her, taking the pressure of having to speak to the waitress off of her, and making it seem like the most natural thing in the world for him to do it. She felt warm at the thought that he was reading her cues, and accepting them without judging her.

“Cheesecake,” she said, her embarrassment fading.

Several minutes later, with a glass of chocolate milk in front of her, Angel felt comfortable enough to say, “I dropped out of college today.”

“Did you like school?”

She shook her head. “No.”

“Then that’s a good thing.” He spoke resolutely, without a hint of doubt. Despite everything that Angel had been told about the virtues of higher education, she believed Murrich above them all. “What are you going to do now?” he asked.

“I don’t know.” Angel bit her lip and looked out the window. “I need to find out if my parents are going to kick me out first.”

“I see. I suppose that’s why you went to college in the first place.” Murrich’s expression became unpleasant for a moment, then unreadable again.

“They might not,” Angel quickly said. “They’ve told me things like that before, but then never actually followed through with it.”

“That doesn’t make it okay.”

Angel became silent as her throat started to hurt again. She wanted to say something, but couldn’t come up with the words. She knew, deep within her heart that she hated the way her parents treated her, and had never been able to say a word in defense of them when past friends had commented on it. She didn’t have friends anymore though.

“Miss Angel,” Murrich said, his voice somehow sounding like soft velvet, “is that why you were going to jump off the bridge?”

“No!” Angel’s face burned with shame at the memory, uncertain of what had happened. “I just . . . felt pulled . . . I don’t know. I don’t want to kill myself.” The way that Murrich was watching her made her even more uncomfortable, and she hated it. She wanted to make him like her, and she was sure that her ineptitude at handling the conversation was putting him off, but she didn’t know how to act better.

“Come.” Murrich stood up. “We’re both finished, and the night is beautiful. We should go for a walk.”

Complying, Angel felt panic surging through her as she walked through the door and out into the world again. She wanted to protest, demand to be taken to the safety of her home, but she felt too weak to do so. She remained quiet, keeping her turmoil inside.

“I’m sorry for distressing you, but I want to show you that the world isn’t as dangerous as you seem to think.”

Shocked, Angel quickly looked at him and exclaimed, “How did you know?!” Embarrassed by the inadvertent admission, she looked away.

He chuckled, stopping to put his hand under her chin and direct her gaze to meet his. “My Angel,” he whispered, “your face is not as blank as you seem to think. It’s in your eyes, the curve of you mouth, and the shade of your skin. All I had to do was look.” Then his hand dropped away, and he continued walking. “I’m certain that I’m not going to enjoy this, but I must ask you: what sorts of things are you expecting to happen, out here in the unprotected dark?”

Skipping to catch up, Angel clenched her jaw as she thought about the answer. Then, forcing the words out until they started to flow on their own, she repeated all of the stories that her mother had told her, shying away from the details but giving the general picture. Sharing such horrible things made her tremble, so Murrich put an arm around her shoulders, holding her protectively as she talked.

When she was done, he said, “I’m not going to lie to you, bad things like that do happen.” He squeezed her slightly. “But not as often as you think. It certainly won’t happen tonight with me here to protect you.”

“I barely know you. For all I know, this could be an elaborate ruse to get me vulnerable!”

Murrich remained calm at Angel’s outburst, answering, “When I deliver you safe and sound at your front door, you’ll know that it’s not.”

Suddenly Angel trusted him completely, assured by his words. Murrich, a man who hadn’t existed for her until a couple of hours ago, had managed to unravel the tangled mess of nerves and insecurity that had been her world for so long, simply by making her feel like he was strong enough for the both of them. Relaxing against his side, Angel murmured, “I hope that never happens.”

“You don’t wish to be safe and sound?”

“I don’t want you to leave me.” Blushing, Angel hid her face. “This is the first time I’ve ever felt safe.”

“Then maybe I shouldn’t.”

“I feel like I was supposed to meet you, supposed to . . .”

Angel was relieved that Murrich seemed to be taking her seriously, and not pointing out the flaws in her articulation. She had never loved anyone before, had never been in a relationship, and she wasn’t sure how they were supposed to start. She was certain that she was doing it all wrong, and moving far too quickly, but she didn’t have any more doubts about whether or not Murrich was meant to be in her life. There was something almost spiritual in the way that she was falling for him, and his acceptance of her confirmed her feelings. She closed her eyes and reveled in the fuzzy warmth that flowed into her from him.

“My Angel,” he whispered, closing his hand around hers. After a moment they began walking again, moving in the direction of Angel’s house.

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