Tobias is young, powerful, highly respected in the ranks of the Guardians. But can falling in love cause him to lose it all?
I remember everything.
It’s becoming so clear now. The black ice had disappeared into the road like dusk turning into night. Large balls of ice beat against the old Chevy’s windshield as we drove along the highway. Dirty snow was piled along the side of the road. We were the only car on the cold, barren highway.
I was driving too fast that night. Driving conditions were dangerous. But I loved testing my luck and the adrenaline rush that came with it. The speedometer kept creeping up and I pushed it higher.
And then we skidded, slipping and sliding towards the banks of snow. My parents and I were thrown from the car violently. We hit the snow banks and found that they’d been frozen. Warm ruby liquid flowed out of a jagged six-long-inch gash on my right arm. I felt myself slipping away and panicked, trying to keep conscious. But giving in would be so easy…
That accident was two years ago.
The first year and a half defied description. My parents became statistics and I became an orphan. Guilt washed over me and threatened to drown me. I moved in with my cousins, wanting to leave the state that I’d killed my parents in. Life was simple. I went to a public school there, started dating a beautiful but shallow girl. Alyssa was the kind of girl who loved you for how popular you were, but I didn’t care. I felt like I was carrying tons upon tons of weight, and any amount of love I got, no matter how petty, helped take the weight off.
Graduation was nothing special. I got my diploma and went out with my family. But it was the day after graduation that my life began to change. The scar I’d gotten in the accident never faded. That morning I woke up and found my scar framed by inky black swirls that crawled along the underside of my forearm. The wisps climbed up and around my wrist, then stopped. Dazed, groggy, and still half-asleep, I tried to remember everything that had happened last night. I’d graduated, we’d gone out to dinner, and then I’d come home and gone to sleep.
Maybe Charlotte, my youngest cousin, had drawn on me while I was sleeping. She loved coloring, especially coloring outside of the lines. I stumbled into the kitchen to look for her or someone who could explain what was on my arm.
“Morning, Toby,” Rebeca said when I walked in. My aunt insisted that I call her by her first name. She said calling her “aunt” made her feel old. “This letter came for you.”
“Already?” It hadn’t been that long since I sent off college applications. I picked up the envelope and immediately knew that it wasn’t a college letter. My full name was printed on the thick cream paper in a beautiful handwriting. I sat down on a barstool and opened the envelope. Four words were penned on the paper.
You have been chosen.
“What the…?” I muttered. Rebeca peered over my shoulder and took in the short message. Her mouth dropped open.
“Oh my God,” she said. Her eyes flickered to my forearm and widened.
“What is it?”
“You’re a…you’ve been chosen to be a…”
“A Guardian,” she got out. My mouth dropped open in shock. When I’d moved here, my fourteen-year-old cousin Kyle had told me about the Guardians, a breed of protectors. They were supposed to watch over certain youth who were believed to have important roles in society in the future. At the time, I’d thought that they were just a myth and that Kyle and his friends were trying to scare me. Apparently, it was all real.
“What does this mean?” I asked, eyeing the tattoos on my arm.
“I don’t know. I’ve only heard about it. It’s never happened to anyone I know before,” Rebeca whispered, still in shock. Then more words appeared on the paper. Rebeca and I watched in disbelief as each letter melted into another, forming words.
Do you accept this?
“Um…I guess,” I answered.
Someone will be by to collect you. Be ready.
No more words appeared. I set the letter down and slid off the barstool, enveloping my aunt in a hug.
“I’m going to miss you, Toby,” she whispered. “But I guess we can’t go against it. Save some lives for me, okay? I’ll tell your cousins when they wake up. Do you want Alyssa to come over so you can say goodbye?”
“Yeah. Thanks, Rebeca.”
“You’re welcome.” We separated and I went into my room to begin packing. I dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and hoodie first since Alyssa was coming. A few minutes later she arrived, her perfume wafting into my room just before she did.
“Toby? Why are you packing?”
“I have to leave. That’s why you’re here; I wanted to say goodbye.”
“Oh.” She stepped into my arms, crying a little bit. “Where are you going?”
“I honestly don’t know.”
“Then why are you going?”
“I have to.” I pulled away from her and kept packing. Alyssa sat on my bed and watched.
“God, it’s cold in here,” she said.
“Mm-hmm. Can I wear your jacket?”
“Why this one?” She couldn’t see the tattoos.
“Toby,” she whined. “Please?”
“You can wear a different one.”
Alyssa kept begging for me to give her my jacket. I’d never realized how annoying/needy she was before.
“Fine!” I snapped. I slid off my jacket and whipped it at her. Big mistake.
Once I arrived at the building that housed the Guardian’s facilities things got a little better. I lived there, trained there, grew up there. If one of the guys asked me if I had a girl, I just said I was single. It sounded a lot better than “Alyssa saw my tattoos, freaked out, and dumped me”. It had been five years since the accident, three that I’d spent here. I was twenty-one now and quickly moving up in the Guardians’ ranks, one of their best warriors. I was called by my full name, Tobias instead of Toby.
One night, I was walking back to my dorm when I heard a struggle in a nearby alley. Every nerve was on high alert that something was very wrong. I ducked into the alley, making sure I was hidden in the shadows. Two men were attacking a girl and by the look of them I knew that she was one of the Guarded. One of them crept forward and hit her. Her screams sent a chill down my spine. I manifested a jacket around me, one with three large letters on the back. A gun in a holster appeared on my hip and I pulled it out. One of the men pulled out a dagger and was threatening to kill her.
“FBI! Drop your weapon!” I shouted. They got one look at me and bolted, but not before slitting her wrists and throwing her down. She didn’t scream, just collapsed on the dirty ground. The gun and jacket dissipated into nothing as I ran to her. She moaned and stirred a little.
“When is your birthday?” I asked her urgently.
“I’m twenty-one in two days, why?”
Blood was pouring out of the cuts on her wrists. I closed my eyes and commanded the blood to go back into her arteries. I opened my eyes and saw the dark liquid obeying. It only took a swipe of my thumb across the cut to close it.
“Who are you?” she asked, eyeing her wrists with a look of fear and amazement. I accidentally looked into her eyes and couldn’t move. I hadn’t realized how beautiful she was until now. I knew her life story in an instant and got the feeling that she knew mine too. There was an instant connection between us that I couldn’t describe.
“Tobias,” I stammered.
“Mackenzie,” she said breathlessly. I helped her up, catching her when her knees gave out. Instead of letting her walk I picked Mackenzie up in my arms. It was like holding a feather. “I can walk,” she protested.
“No, you can’t. Where do you live?”
She gave me her address. I took her there, setting her down outside her apartment door and making sure she was strong enough to stand. I turned to go but she stopped me.
“Aren’t you going to come in? I mean, you saved my life. I’d kind of like to get to know you,” she smiled. My heart skipped a beat.
“Okay,” I said and went in. The second the door was closed Mackenzie began interrogating me.
“Who were those men and why did they want to kill me? Where did you come from? More importantly, what are you?”
I hesitated, not sure if she was allowed to know.
“Tell me. I think I deserve to know.”
I sighed. Against my better judgment I told her everything. By the end of my spiel we were sitting on the couch. I’d put my arm around her protectively and her head had rested on my shoulder.
“So you’re my guardian angel?” she asked.
“No, just Guardian. I’m not an angel and I don’t belong to a specific person, I just help whoever needs it.” But I’ll be yours if you want me to be. I’d just barely kept myself from saying those words out loud. Mackenzie began carefully tracing my tattoos with one finger, keeping her eyes on my scar.
“Don’t be jealous,” I teased. “You’re going to have some of your own soon.”
She closed her eyes thoughtfully. “Thank you for saving me.”
“You’re welcome,” I whispered. It was getting late. I told myself that I needed to go or else someone would notice that I was gone. But I was pretty tired now and didn’t want to disturb Mackenzie by getting up. My eyes were sliding closed against my will. Before I drifted off, a thought slipped into my mind.
Guardians had a set of rules that needed to be followed. I’d broken some minor ones before while trying to protect someone, but those had been overlooked. But this one wouldn’t be ignored. Over the next few weeks, I saw more and more of Mackenzie. Some nights I’d sneak out to see her or I’d bump into her on the street (not entirely by coincidence). During all this, I was breaking the Guardians’ biggest rule.
I was falling in love with one of the Guarded.
I woke up one morning in a good mood. Last night I’d snuck out to see Mackenzie. We’d seen a movie and then gone back to her apartment for dinner. But for me, the best part of the night was when I’d gotten up to leave. Mackenzie had pulled me in and kissed me.
“I love you, Tobias,” she’d whispered. “I don’t care what you are or what you’ve done. I love you.”
I looked down at her like I was surprised, messing with her. She got a scared look on her face.
“This has been a long time coming,” I said. Mackenzie seemed to be bracing herself. “I love you too, Mackenzie.” She smiled as I leaned in to kiss her.
Last night had been one of the best nights of my life. I got out of bed and got dressed, remembering the feeling of her lips on mine. I smiled.
“Tobias? You in here?” Christian, my roommate, shouted into the room.
“I’m in here!”
He walked in and sat on his bed, a serious expression on his face. “I have to tell you something. It’s about your girl.” Christian was the only one that I’d trusted with the secret of Mackenzie.
“What is it?”
He pressed his lips into a fine line. “She’s gone.”
I blinked. “What?”
“The generals found out about you two. They went to her apartment and gave her a choice. She could stay with you but you wouldn’t be a Guardian anymore, or she could lose you and you would continue to be a Guardian. She knew how much you loved your job…so that’s the one she chose. I’m sorry.”
“Where is she?”
“I don’t know. She disappeared as soon as she made her choice.”
I could feel my heart breaking. A lone tear slipped down my face, followed by others. The guilt came back, pulling me into oblivion. I didn’t go to training classes that day. Mackenzie was dead. It was my fault. I’d loved her even though it was against the rules. I should have ended it before our relationship got too deep, too involved. I stayed in my room that day and mourned.
Emptiness, guilt, and sadness were the only things I felt. Christian brought news of an assembly of all the Guardians that afternoon. I refused to go, and he replied that it was mandatory. I groaned and got up to shower.
At the assembly in the courtyard I took my place with the other lieutenants. Here, the ranks were inexperienced, rookie, private, lieutenant, general. If only I’d saved one more person, I could’ve been one of the ones to confront Mackenzie. I could have saved her.
“Guardians!” the major general’s voice boomed. “We have a new protector.” The crowd murmured approvingly.
“We could use some new blood around here,” Christian grinned beside me.
“She is the first-ever female Guardian, truly one of a kind.”
Another murmur of approval.
“I introduce to you: Mackenzie Carter.”
She stood there, still as beautiful as ever, black hair shining, blue eyes sparkling. She nodded a greeting, smiling and blushing a little at all the attention. Her eyes swept over the crowd and settled on one person: me.
“Tobias!” she shrieked, drowning out the speech the major general was making. Mackenzie flew down the stairs into the line of lieutenants. She ran into my arms, tears of happiness running down her face and mine.
“How…?” I asked, too shocked to form a complete sentence.
“I gave up my gift,” she laughed. My eyes widened and she nodded. “I gave it up, didn’t need it. And now I’m one of you. Look.” Mackenzie showed me her wrists. Around her scars there were delicate spirals of royal blue, dancing along her forearm. She couldn’t contain her excitement any longer and kissed me in front of everyone. A cheer rose up from the guys but I ignored it.
We were together, finally.