Sitting at the table in the cafe, I did my best to take slow, full breaths. Don’t hyperventilate, I told myself. This isn’t a huge deal.
I mean, I was finally meeting, in person, the girl I’d been chatting with online for six months, and this was my only chance to make a good first impression in person. This was the girl that I’d been pinning all my hopes on, that I was pretty sure I was falling in love with. And now, I was going to see her in person for the very first time.
But hey, no pressure.
I looked down at the empty table. Should I order a cup of coffee? I felt jittery already, but I also wanted something in my hands, something that I could sip at to take my mind off of the rapidly approaching future. I couldn’t even decide this.
The door to the cafe opened with a jingle, and I glanced up. Was this her? She’d said that she was going to wear a red bobble hat, she’d messaged me.
But no, the man who stepped inside the cafe wasn’t wearing anything on his hair. He was, however, wearing what looked vaguely like a cross between a robe and a toga, all white cloth. I frowned a little. That was strange.
But the strangeness didn’t stop there.
The stranger glanced around after stepping inside, spotted me, and gave me a head nod, as if he recognized me! As I watched in shock and confusion, he cut his way through all the tables towards me, his eyes focused on me.
“Ugh, you look ridiculous,” the man said to me as he plopped down in the chair opposite mine at the little table.
I blinked, feeling totally confused. I didn’t even know this man, although something about him looked slightly familiar. I had that sort of impression, like when I see someone who reminds me of a dream. “Um, excuse me, but I’m waiting for someone,” I said, wishing that this guy would vanish.
“Yeah, yeah, Juliette sixteen, or whatever,” the man replied to me, waving one hand vaguely in my direction in a brush-off gesture. “As if that’s going to work out.”
Who the hell was this? And how did he know the screen name of my date? “Excuse me,” I said again, this time trying to inject some more strength into my voice. “But really, I don’t know you, and I am meeting-“
“The whole thing’s a crock of shit, you know that?” the man interrupted me, turning to stare at me. As his eyes locked on mine, I felt my voice cut off. I’d never seen such brilliant blue irises before. “I mean, I was doing just fine smiting evil, all of that, and then next thing I know, I’m pulled and stuck in the guardian division! And now I’m burdened with you sad sack, as if I didn’t have enough problems of my own.”
What? “Hey, I’m not a-“
“Yes, you are,” the man replied, waving a hand at me again. “I mean, come on, dude! Just look at you. Hey, can we get some service over here?” he called out to a nearby waitress, snapping his fingers in the air. What a jerk, I thought to myself.
The waitress turned and made her way over, a frown on her face as she glared at the man who had summoned her in such a degrading manner. “What?” she asked, shifting her glare back and forth. I felt a bit hurt. I hadn’t done anything wrong! I didn’t even know this guy!
“Cup of coffee, seven creams, seven sugars,” the guy told her. He immediately returned his attention back to me, acting as if the waitress had ceased to exist. “But seriously, just look at you! You’re what, twenty-nine now?”
“Twenty-eight!” I replied, not sure why I was answering him.
“And you’ve got a dead-end job, no girl, and no friends,” the man picked up as if I hadn’t spoken. “Seriously, dude. You’re about two more cats away from getting the Lifetime Loser award.”
“Who the hell are you to-“
The man flapped his hand again at me, rolling his eyes. “And not especially fast on the uptake, either,” he said. “Here, maybe this will finally make it clear.”
The man bent over, rustling around in a pocket of his robe, as I felt my hands squeeze into fists. How dare this stranger come over and just start insulting me-
But then, the man pulled something out of his pocket, and I felt my mouth drop open as my thoughts cut off mid-train.
He was holding a glowing ring, about the size of a dessert plate.
And as I watched, he hung this glowing ring in thin air over his head, where it bobbed up and down, supported by nothing.
I couldn’t speak, but still tried. “You’re- you’re a- you’re an-” I tried, stammering.
“Yeah, yeah, angel, holy power, all that shit,” the man replied, rolling his eyes again. “Where the hell is that coffee?”
As I blinked and felt my mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, the man’s coffee arrived, the waitress slamming it down on the table so hard it spilled a little. “There,” she told him, before stalking off.
Finally, I managed to regain my voice. “You’re an angel! But I didn’t think that they existed!” I got out.
“Well, they do,” the man told me, taking a sip of his coffee and grimacing. “Ugh, spit. Like I wouldn’t notice. And for whatever sins I committed, I’m now stuck as yours.”
“Mine? Like a guardian angel?”
“Yeah, just like that,” he said, taking another sip. “And ordinarily I’d just let you wallow in sadness, but you’re about to make a major screw-up, so I figured I was obligated to step in.”
“Screw-up?” I had no idea what the man was talking about. “Wait, am I going to bomb this date?”
The angel’s eyes widened slightly at me. “Bomb it?” he repeated incredulously. “Hell no! You’re bombing it right now by showing up! You ought to be running away as fast as those wimpy little legs of yours can carry you!”
“This is a mistake?”
The angel glared at me. “And this is why I hate being a guardian,” he announced to the world in general. “Yes, it’s a mistake! She’s crazy! Cuckoo! A freaking loony!” He raised one finger up and swirled it around his head to illustrate what he meant.
“What? But she seems perfect!” I didn’t know what to think. On one hand, this guy had a halo, that was true. But I’d been chatting with Juliette for months!
The angel held up fingers as he ticked off reasons. “She’s got just as dead-end of a job as you,” he called off. “She’s got three cats. Seriously, three. She’s gonna be as crazy as her mom is, and will drag you into the fights. And she’s really just trying to get you to buy her stuff.”
I shook my head. “I can’t believe it!” I repeated, feeling flabbergasted.
The angel sighed, but then stood up. “Fine, fine,” he said. “Here, come on. We’re going out to find you a real girl.”
Not sure what to think, I let the other man pull me up to his feet. “Hey, pay for my coffee,” he told me, heading for the door. “I’ll meet you outside.”
I did as he requested, handing a few dollars over to the stone-faced waitress and whispering “sorry” to her. I then hurried out of the cafe, trying to catch up to the man in the robe, now standing outside on the sidewalk and glaring around at the world as if it had personally pissed him off.
“Come on, now,” he grunted at me, starting off down the sidewalk. “If I’m stuck with you as my client, I’ll at least try and solve some of these problems quickly. The sooner I get you back on track, the sooner I can get out of here and back to smiting, where I belong.”
I did as he requested, tagging along a half-step behind him, but I still felt as though I had to say something. “You’re a real asshole, you know that?” I told the angel, trying to keep up.
He just shrugged and kept walking. “At least I get things done,” he told me. “Now, come on! And really, we ought to get you a dog. Girls like a guy with a dog.”
As we walked away from the cafe, a short, pale, bespectacled girl with a furry red bobble cap made her way towards the door, trying to brush cat hair off of her hand-knit sweater and furtively glancing around, as if she thought someone was following her, sweat stains marking her armpits…