Crescendo in Patch's POV
Author: Elena Hathaway

Chapter 3
Chapter 3

I KNOCKED ON HER FRONT DOOR AND TOOK A STEP BACK, stuffing my hands in my pockets, and waited for her to appear on the other side.

When she did, she didn’t bound forward, like she usually did.  No, instead, Angel just stood there, regarding me coolly.  She was still hurt from last night.  And goddammit, I had forgotten to call her too.  Just peachy.  With everything that had happened last night—and earlier today—I had forgotten all about promising to call her.  Normally I would have, but with the current situation…

We stood there like that for several minutes, the reserved silence filled with so many messages.  She couldn’t be that mad at me, could she?

“Hey,” she finally said, feigning casualty.  “You forgot to call last night.  Where did you end up going?”  Her voice was flat, reserved, something that rarely happened with her.

“Around.  You going to invite me in?”

She didn’t.  “I’m glad to hear Marcie’s house is just, you know, around.”

What?  She knew I’d been at Marcie’s?  How?

“Want to tell me what’s going on?” Angel said in a slightly more hostile tone.  “Want to tell me what you were doing at her place last night?”

“You sound jealous, Angel,” I said, trying to be easy, carefree, and failing miserably.  My voice sounded off even to me.  It lacked the usual affectionate tone I always picked up around her.

“Maybe I wouldn’t be jealous if you didn’t give me a reason to be,” Angel shot back.  “What were you doing at her house?”

“Taking care of business,” I said evenly.  What else could I say?  I couldn’t tell her the truth, not if I didn’t want to be dragged down to Hell—and away from her.

Her eyebrows shot up.  “I didn’t realize you and Marcie had business.”

“We do, but it’s just that.  Business.”

“Care to elaborate?”  There was a lot of accusation in her words.  She didn’t outright accuse me of cheating, but it was there, in her tone.

“Are you accusing me of something?”

“Should I be?”

Answering questions with questions.  Something I did quite a bit.  But now, her irrational anger was starting to get on my nerves.  Did she honestly think I would cheat on her?  “No,” I answered.

“If being at her house last night was so innocent, why are you having such a hard time explaining what you were doing there?”

“I’m not having a hard time,” I said, keeping my voice measured, my emotions in check.  I had to.  It was the only way.  “I’m not telling you, because what I was doing at Marcie’s has nothing to do with us.”

And it didn’t.  Why couldn’t she believe that?  Why did she have to jump to conclusions?  Yes, I knew it looked suspicious, but I had expected her to have a little more faith in me, especially after last night.  Then again, I guessed it was because of last night that she was being so testy.  I wasn’t about to go sniffing around Marcie Millar in that way at all.  I had no interest in her at all and I never would.  Angel was all I saw, all I ever would see. I had given up so much for her.  Why couldn’t she look past all this to see that?

“Don’t come back until you’re ready to tell me what you were doing at her place,” Angel suddenly spat, hostility in every word.

Impatiently, I pushed my way inside her house and closed the door behind us.  “I didn’t come here to argue.  I wanted to let you know Marcie ran into some trouble this afternoon.”

Nora looked outraged that I had turned the subject once again to Marcie, but didn’t say anything like I expected her to, like “Good” or “She deserved it” or something along those lines.

“Oh?” she said instead.

“She was caught in the crossfire when a group of fallen angels tried to force a Nephil to swear fealty inside a men’s room at Bo’s Arcade.  The Nephil wasn’t sixteen, so they couldn’t force him, but they had fun trying.  They cut him up pretty bad, and broke a few ribs.”  I paused, gauging her reaction, before going on.  “Enter Marcie.  She’d had too much to drink and walked into the wrong restroom.  The fallen angel standing guard pulled a knife on her.  She’s at the hospital, but they’ll release her soon.  Flesh wound.”

I watched for Nora’s reaction to all of this.  She gave none.  Or at least, none any one else would have been able to pick up.  Being me, and with our history, I could tell that the fact that Marcie had had a knife on her upset her, and she didn’t want me to know.  Interesting.

Instead, she crossed her arms stiffly.  “Gee, is this Nephil okay?” she asked, somewhat snidely.

I shot her a look that held a tiny note of disgust, then went on as if she hadn’t said anything.  “Marcie may have been drunk, but chances are she remembers what she saw.  Obviously you know fallen angels and Nephilim try to stay under the radar, and someone like Marcie, with a big mouth, can threaten their secrecy.  The last thing they want is for her to announce to the world what she saw.  Our world operates a lot more smoothly when humans are ignorant of it.  I know the fallen angels are involved.”  The bad part… “They’ll do whatever it takes to keep Marcie quiet.”

Angel shivered, but tried to cover it up with anger.  “I’m trying to feel bad,” she said, “but it sounds like you’re concerned enough for both of us.”  She reached past me and jerked on the doorknob, opening the door wide.  “Maybe you should go check on Marcie, see if her flesh wound is healing properly.”  There was anger and hurt all over her words and face, and that had not been my goal tonight.

I grabbed her hand, pried it off the doorknob, and shut the door again with my foot.  “Bigger things than you, me, and Marcie are going on.”  I hesitated now, not sure what else I was at liberty to say.  I closed my mouth at the last moment.  Which, I think, was a mistake.

“You, me, and Marcie?” Nora snapped.  “Since when did you start putting the three of us in the same sentence?  Since when does she mean anything to you?”

I cupped the back of my neck with my hand, trying to think.  One wrong word, and Angel would probably hit me.  I wouldn’t feel it physically, but emotionally…

“Just tell me what you’re thinking!” she blurted.  “Spit it out!  It’s bad enough that I have no idea what you’re feeling, let alone what you’re thinking!”

They’re listening.

I glanced around, wishing I was anywhere but in this situation.  Why couldn’t I have come here today and ended up in a make-out session instead of a shouting match?

“Spit it out?” I muttered incredulously, annoyed.  “What does it look like I’m trying to do?  If you’d calm down, I could.  Right now you’re going to turn hysterical, regardless of what I say.”

Her eyes narrowed.  “I have a right to be angry.  You won’t tell me what you were doing at Marcie’s last night.”

I threw my hands up.  This again?

“Two months ago,” she began, and I could feel a speech coming on, “Vee, my mom—everyone—warned me that you were the kind of guy who sees girls as conquests.  They said I was just another notch under your belt, another stupid girl you’d seduce for your own satisfaction.  They said the moment I fell in love with you was the moment you’d leave.”  She swallowed hard, fighting tears.  “I need to know they weren’t right.”

I breathed out in frustration, shaking my head.  “You want me to tell you they’re wrong?  Because I get the feeling you aren’t going to believe me no matter what I say.”  I glared at her.

“Are you as committed to this relationship as I am?”

I was getting weary of this.  It was pointless.  She had gotten it into her head that I was something I wasn’t. 

“Do you love me?” she tried again.

Yes, I wanted to say. 

Instead, I said into her mind, I can’t answer that.  It hurt me to say that, because of how much I did love her, and this conversation cut at me bit by bit, at the lack of faith she had in me.  “I’ll stop by tomorrow,” I said, heading for the door.  “Sleep well.”

“When we kiss, are you faking it?” she asked at my retreating back.

I stopped short, shaking my head in disbelief.  Faking it?”

“When I touch you, do you feel anything?  How far does your desire go?  Do you feel anything close to what I feel for you?”

I watched her in silence.  “Nora—,” I began.

“I want a straight answer.”

After a moment, I said, “Emotionally, yes.”

“But physically, no, right?  How am I suppose to be in a relationship, when I have no idea how much it even means to you?  Am I experiencing things on a whole different level.  Because that’s what it feels like.  And I hate it,” she added.  “I don’t want you to kiss me because you have to.  I don’t want you to pretend it means something, when it’s really just an act.”

“Just an act?” I repeated, a fresh wave of anger crashing over me.  “Are you listening to yourself?”  I tipped my head back for a short, dark laugh.  “Are you done with the accusations?”

“You think this is funny?” she said furiously.

“Just the opposite.”  I turned toward the door again.  “Call me when you’re ready to talk rationally.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means you’re crazy,” I clarified, turning back to her.  “You’re impossible.”

“I’m crazy?”

Before she could say anything else, I tipped her chin up and planted a quick, rough kiss on her mouth, letting it last as long as possible.  “And I must be crazy for putting up with it.”

Angrily, she pulled free, rubbing her chin.  “You gave up becoming human for me, and this is what I get?  A boyfriend who hangs out at Marcie’s, but won’t tell me why.  A boyfriend who walks away at the first sign of a fight.  Try this on for size: you’re a—jerk!”

Jerk? I said to her thoughts, coldly.  I’m trying to follow the rules.  I’m not supposed to fall in love with you.  We both know this isn’t about Marcie.  This is about how I feel about you.  I have to hold back.  I’m walking a dangerous line.  Falling in love is what got me in trouble in the first place.  I can’t be with you the way I want.

“Why did you give up becoming a human for me if you knew you couldn’t be with me?” she asked, her voice wobbling.  “What did you even expect from a relationship with me?  What’s the point of—” her voice caught—“us?”

What had I expected from a relationship with my Angel?  Love.  That’s what I had wanted, and, what I thought, at least, I’d gotten.  At some point, I must have thought about where our relationship was headed, and what would happen.  Of course I had.  How could I not?  I had thought about it earlier tonight on the beach.

Angel, I tried again.  She looked up, tears in her eyes.  Being close to you on any level is better than nothing.  I’m not going to lose you. I paused, worry flickering through me.  But she had to know.  But I already fell once.  If I give the archangels cause to think I’m even remotely in love with you, they’ll send me to hell.  Forever.

Angel looked like she’d just been punched.  “What?”

I’m a guardian angel, I went on, or at least so I’ve been told, but the archangels don’t trust me.  I have no privileges, no privacy.  Two of them cornered me last night for a talk, and I walked away with the feeling that they want me to slip up again.  For whatever reason, they’re choosing now to crack down on me.  They’re looking for an excuse to get rid of me.  I’m on probation, and if I screw this up, my story doesn’t have a happy ending.

Angel stared at me, her mouth open.  She looked like she was trying for disbelief, but something on my face must have convinced her.

“What happens now?” she wondered out loud.

Instead of answering, I sighed in frustration.  The truth of the matter was, this was going to end badly.  No matter how much we backpedaled, stalled, or looked the other day, one day all too soon, our lives would be ripped apart.  What would happen when she graduated and went off to college?  What would happen if she followed her dream job to the other side of the country?  What would happen when she wanted to marry and have kids?  I wasn’t doing anyone a favor by being in love with Nora, least of all her, by falling in love with her more and more every day.

“Isn’t there anything we can do?” she asked.

“I’m working on it.”

In other words, I had nothing.  We were trapped on both sides—the archangels applying pressure from one direction, and two futures headed in vastly different directions from the other.

“I want out,” she said quietly, almost taking me by surprise.

I stared at her.  She couldn’t be serious.  “That’s it?  You want out?  You got your turn to explain yourself, which I don’t buy, but now that it’s my turn, I’m supposed to just swallow your decision and walk out?”  I couldn’t do that.  I couldn’t walk away from her.

She hugged her arms and turned away.  “You can’t force me to stay in a relationship I don’t want.”

“Can we talk about this?” I pleaded.

“If you want to talk, tell me what you were doing at Marcie’s last night,” she hedged.

I dragged my hands down my face in frustration.  I gave a short, humorless laugh.

“If I’d been with Rixon last night, you’d wonder what was going on!” she flung at me.

“No,” I said quietly.  “I trust you.”

Anger—and fear—shone in her eyes, and she took a step forward and smacked her hands on my chest, knocking me back a step, from surprise.  “Go,” she rasped out.  “I have other things I want to do with my life.  Things that don’t involve you.  I have college and future jobs.  I’m not going to throw it all away on something that was never meant to be.”

I flinched at that.  “Is that what you really want?”

“When I kiss my boyfriend, I want to know he feels it!”

Ouch.  That one hurt.  I stiffened at the words as if they were a blow.  We stood face-to-face, both of us breathing hard. 

What I wanted to do was grab her shoulders, jerk her to me, and kiss away the words she had just said, kiss her until she took it all back, until she knew without a doubt the truth of my feelngs.

What I really did was turn away.  What I really did was stride out the door, yanking it shut behind me.  I walked through the fog to my Jeep and got in.  I sat there for a moment, and punched the steering wheel.

I backed out of her driveway and drove away.  It wasn’t until I was halfway to Delphic that I realize the impact of what had just happened, and I had to pull over from the crippling pain lancing through my chest.  I had felt this feeling once before, and knew it well:

My heart was breaking.

 

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