Joel came to the house and Uncle Mack drove us all to the nearest bus stop on the route to Oxford. Once he had driven away, Joel stuck his hands in his pockets and sighed.
“Natalie says there’s a Guardian of Order in the area,” he told Susanna quietly, although it wasn’t difficult for me to overhear: we were sitting under a bus shelter together.
“Oh no,” Susanna whispered.
“A what?” I asked, confused.
Joel and Susanna shared a glance, and then Joel said “She might as well know, for her own safety.” Susanna nodded in agreement.
“Is this about why your sisters were so upset that you two are going out?” I guessed.
“Yes. Um... How to explain this? My family ... and other people in the world too ... we’re kind of ... magical. Not like little fairies dancing around mushrooms, nor like witches brewing potions in their cauldrons: we kind of channel these supernatural forces that are ... well, just part of the system.”
“Magical? Channelling supernatural forces?” I repeated incredulously. I thought what he was saying was crazy. A thought at the back of my mind tried to surface, involving my hand, or finger, but something was equally trying to push it back, stop me thinking it: the latter won out and I wondered if Joel and Susanna were playing some bizarre kind of trick on me.
Joel winced, as though sensing how insane he sounded.
“It’s true,” Susanna insisted. “I know how it sounds but ... Joel’s shown me. Magic exists, Jen. We’ve got to keep it a secret - first, because no one would believe us, and second, because if too many people know, it dies - but you should know because while Joel and his family use his magic to produce little happy moments, there’s a different branch of people who don’t: who only care that the world doesn’t fall into Chaos - not that that’s a bad thing, but they’re the ones who really disagree with me and Joel being together. ‘Cause I’m human, and he’s a Guardian.”
It sounded like something out of a movie, and a bit of a cliché one at that.
“Well,” I said uncertainly, deciding to play along because of the serious expressions on their faces, “if they’re worried you’ll cause this Chaos thing, why don’t you ... Why risk it?” I asked helplessly, not wanting to offend either of them but needing an answer to my question.
“Because they don’t know that we’ll cause Chaos for certain,” Joel replied. “And I don’t think that’s fair. I think what Susanna and I have is real and should be protected. Nothing should get in the way of love, and certainly not some self-important Guardians who have nothing better to do than make people miserable. If I knew for certain that Guardian-human relationships would have apocalyptic consequences, I wouldn’t interact with them. But no one knows. And I personally think that if they were really dangerous, there would’ve been an earthquake or monsoon, or the ground would’ve opened up when I saw your sister for the first time.”
I found myself shocked by his use of the word ‘apocalyptic’. It worried me that he was being so complacent with the way he talked about the people preventing the world from falling into ‘Chaos’. So what there hadn’t been an earthquake yet? What if Joel and Susanna were being given a chance to stop things before they got too serious, after the withdrawal of which the sky would come crashing down?
Also, when Joel had said ‘no one knows’, something had slipped through the barrier between my subconscious and conscious: the memory of someone, someone I could neither remember nor picture in my mind, saying “No one knows what’s going to happen and that’s something no one likes”. I couldn’t help but say “What if whatever’s going to happen just hasn’t happened yet?”
“Then I guess I’ll have no choice but to leave your sister. But that’s the point, Jennifer: nothing has happened yet. Everyone’s just assuming the worst for no reason. They don’t like that I’m brave enough to stand up for what’s right.”
I admired Joel for his determination, but still: “What about the harm that will’ve been done from you not stopping sooner?”
“I’m hoping it won’t come to that. Maybe all that’s going to happen is ... I don’t know... Jennifer, I know it sounds awful and reckless and irresponsible, but what Susanna and I have just feels ... so right. It’s inconceivable that it’s dangerous and potentially catastrophic. I feel like it’s an extension of my normal role as a Guardian of Optimism.”
“Is that what your kind of Guardian is called?” I murmured, thinking the name sounded sort of cheesy.
“Yeah. We try to make humans optimistic about their future. There’s no point in preventing Chaos if humans don’t feel like life is worthwhile: that would just lead to a different incarnation of Chaos. And if I had to end it with Susanna, that would be ignoring my raison d’être (to encourage a human's will to live), which could even end up causing Chaos again.”
Somehow I wasn’t convinced by his argument. How could he cause Chaos by ending it with Susanna when people thought that it was their relationship drawing the prospect of Chaos closer? No offence to him but he was just a young man. If there was genuine concern in the Guardian community (if that concept even existed), it might be more well-founded than Joel’s mere hopeful speculations. Again, a voice entered my mind that felt familiar but couldn’t be identified, saying “there are some things in the world that are bigger than a human’s happiness”. It made me feel like deliberately causing a human pain couldn’t in itself cause Chaos.
“We know it’s a risk,” Susanna insisted, sensing my disagreement, my continued disapproval, and seeming desperate to change that, “but at the first sign of something bad happening, we’ll stop. We promise. But like Joel said, nothing has happened yet, it’s just speculation that we’ll cause Chaos, and love is something precious that you should hold on to, as tightly as you can.”
“I hope you’re both right. I really do.”
Susanna gave a half-smile.
“If it is, this will have all been worth it, won’t it?”
“Yeah, guess so.”
“Thanks, Jennifer. By the way, I bought you and your sister something - to protect you from any magic this Guardian of Order might try on you.” From a pocket in his trousers Joel pulled out two little black boxes and gave one to me and one to Susanna. We opened them to find gold-coloured bracelets with a leaf charm and a charm in the shape of an angel’s wing attached.
“The fact they look like jewellery makes them less suspicious,” he explained at the sight of my confused expression.
“They’re beautiful,” Susanna murmured, smiling.
Joel looked at her in a kind of soft but quietly ecstatic way; I knew by some kind of weird instinct that they were going to kiss and averted my eyes before I could see it happen, busying myself with putting the bracelet around my own wrist. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Joel attach Susanna’s, stroking her wrist as he did so.
The bus came along and we boarded it. Susanna and Joel sat in one pair of seats and I sat across the aisle from them, relieved that I could simply plug in my earphones and leave them to their quiet chatter and hand-holding.
The trip was actually fun. We climbed a tower and looked across the city on the roof, walked through a meadow and did shopping in the city centre, all under a nearly cloudless sky in which sat a bright and warming sun. It was a pleasant day out.