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An Oxford Angel
She gazed at her hand as her fingers danced beneath the water. One by one, the small pebbles bounced off of her nails and continued on their graceful path.
“Claire, is this really what you want?”
Her stare became fixed on the previously empty space next to her on the pier, blonde hair covering her eyes as she turned her head toward the voice. A worded answer was all that begged to be spoken, but he didn’t have to hear her confirmation. He squatted down, kissed her cheek, and left, never to return. A single tear trickled down her face. Claire released the tension in her hands, and the ring that she had worn for seven years tumbled into the water with an unnoticeable splash.
Claire felt his heavy steps as he walked away from her. “We were never supposed to meet, Claire,” repeated over and over again in her head and now she knew why.
She dried her face off with the coldness of her hand, her knuckles poking her eyes as her hand moved across her face. Making her way over to the boat on the far side of the bridge, Claire softly sang “their song” to herself as she watched the lily pads and small sticks that nature considered trash float down the stream. The water got deeper and deeper as she waded through to get to the boat. A whistle from her pink lips summoned her dog, Shiloh, and together they stepped into the old wooden boat. “Let’s leave reality for a while, boy,” Claire suggested.
The boat moved slowly through the water, following its rhythm perfectly. Shiloh laid down in an attempt to rest and Claire sprawled herself out across the two benches she considered seats. The clouds looked noticeably different that day, but Claire had fun with them, spotting turtles and dragons and other creatures. She began to doze off as she took a stroll down memory lane, the beginning filling her head.
Claire thought to herself as she walked out that day how unusually chilly it was for Fall in Oxford, England.
“A great day for something amazing, boy!” Claire enthusiastically exclaimed, her dog tugging at his own leash in a “let’s go” manner. “Calm down, boy. We’ll go on the walk soon eno-.” A rustling in the woods startled her and Shiloh took off running to investigate.
“Shiloh! Come back!” She made her way over to the pier and took a seat, awaiting Shiloh’s return. “Good dog,” Claire sarcastically remarked.
The wind brought life to the trees; the same section of brush that Shiloh had run off into moments ago moved even more intensely, it seemed. Claire disregarded it, thinking her eyes were just playing tricks on her. Her green eyes glanced at the watch she constantly wore on her left wrist, reading a time of ten minutes to eleven. The moon, in partnership with the stars, illuminated the sky and helped guide Claire’s way back into her small, well-kept house. She followed her everyday routine to prepare for bed and crawled into her sea of sheets ten minutes later.
In her dreams, Shiloh ran through a field in her head, barking and playing tug-o-war with Claire. She twirled and ran side by side with her companion. Minute after minute, Shiloh’s eyes multiplied until they reached his tail. Eyes. Hundreds of eyes watched Claire’s every move. A peaceful dream turned into a horrifying nightmare in a matter of seconds and Claire awoke, feeling a light breeze through her window. Her beige curtains swayed and Claire’s mind filled with curiosity.
“Shiloh, is that you, boy?” Shiloh didn’t come prancing in as usual. Something was up, and all Claire could think about was eyes.
Was someone watching her? She walked briskly to the living room just a few feet away, slipped on her pink rain boots, and gripped the door handle. The movement of the ancient door filled the air with a high pitched screech only to be cut off moments later with a deep thud. Fear filled Claire. She ran toward the spot in the bushes where she had seen Shiloh run just hours before. The heaviness of the rain boots made it a struggle for her feet to keep up with the rest of her body, so she threw herself on the damp grass and ditched the boots. She reached the woods and heard the trees whispering her name. Faster and faster she ran, nearly tripping over stones in her path. A tree root caught her quick moving feet causing her to almost taste the ground. Claire bounced back on her feet and brushed off any remaining dirt. Grass stains decorated the knees of her white pajama pants. Claire’s attention was grabbed by an open field in front of her. The weight of her body caused the leaves to crunch beneath her. Wonderstruck, Claire tip-toed toward a small house with a single window. She hid behind every tree she approached, fearing that an attacker resided there.
After what had seemed like hours, Claire finally reached the house. She stretched her arm out as far as it could go, to touch the door handle. She stayed as far away from the house as possible, as if it had a deadly disease. Claire realized what she was doing, and her whole body shook. She crunched her way through the leaves until she got to the side of the house where the window was located. Claire went to the window, cupped her hands around her face, and peered in to see only blackness.
“Miss Claire, may I help you with something?”
Claire jumped like a frightened cat and heavy breathing overtook her. “Who. Who are you?! How do you know my name?!”
A chuckle from the strange man was the only response Claire was given. “Tell me!” she demanded, her voice sounding as if someone was about to chop her into pieces.
“Alright, alright. I am Andrew, your protector,” he finally answered.
“Uh, my what?!” she shrieked.
“We were never supposed to meet, Claire. I am your protector. Your guardian angel,” Andrew explained making bunny ear quotes with his fingers when he said “guardian angel”. “Well, everyone has one,” he said, in an effort to give his unlikely story credibility. Andrew looked into Claire’s murky green eyes and put his hand on her boney shoulder, “The past two years you have lived here, I have been watching over you to make sure nothing bad happens. I’m a good guy, I swear. You seem worried.”
Claire picked at her cuticles, refusing to make eye contact with the stranger. “Go on,” she insisted.
“Okay then.” Andrew took a deep breath and contemplated how he could explain the situation to Claire without sounding creepy. “You live alone, Claire. That’s how you discovered me. The people living their busy lives in big cities don’t take the time to see who’s involved in their life. You, on the other hand, live alone in a waterside home, miles away from your closest neighbor in Oxford. It was impossible to go unnoticed by you.”
Claire’s eyes widened and she looked up at him, confused. “I-I don’t get it. I just don’t understand. Who gave you this job?”
“That, my dear Claire, I cannot tell you,” Andrew said while grabbing her hand and pulling her inside his tiny two room house. She plopped herself down on the nearest chair she could find, and questions poured out of her.
She opened up to him, talking non-stop for about two hours. Claire was curled up in the giant chair by this time, telling Andrew her many stories that usually only Shiloh would hear. He sat in silence, listening and nodding his head, letting her know that he was paying sincere attention. Hours passed until Claire finally fell asleep. Andrew saw Claire sleeping and yawned. He headed to his room and laid down on his bed, falling asleep thinking of Claire.
“I’m so, so sorry, Andrew.” Andrew blinked his eyes awake and immediately sat up when he noticed it was Claire tapping his shoulder.
“Sorry for what?”
“I don’t know. This just seems weird. We don’t know each other,” Claire said walking toward the front door.
“Oh, no you don’t,” he said, grabbing her by her waist, “We do know each other, Claire. We have for two years. Well, I have known you. Let’s take a walk.”
They both strolled outside; the sweet smells of nature filling their noses. “Andrew, you have been watching me for two years. That’s creepy. I think,” Claire said.
“I didn’t want to tell you this before, but now I think it’s the right time. A person’s protector is their true love,” he told her, a tear running down his face at the thought of losing someone he hadn’t even had the chance to love yet, and who seemed about to leave him.
Claire wiped his tear away with her thumb and said, “Okay Andrew. Let’s talk.” They sat by the nearest stream for a while, just listening to the sounds of the shimmering water move over the stones.
“Okay,” she said, breaking the silence. The couple sat by the stream talking as morning changed to afternoon and then to evening. It seemed unreal, but Claire felt such a strong connection to him the minute he started explaining himself. Barely a day had passed, and it seemed like Andrew and Claire had known each other all their lives. They were lying down, still listening to the water in silence, and making up their own constellations from the stars.
“I bet there’s more stars up there than you can even think of, Claire,” Andrew said.
“I love you,” Claire responded.
He rolled onto his side and rested his head on his fist, “I’m going to kiss you. “
“I’m going to kiss you back,” she giggled. Andrew stood up and grabbed Claire’s hand, pulling her up with him. Days passed and Claire and Andrew spent every waking hour together. Days turned to months and months into years until finally one day, Andrew made a suggestion.
“Claire, you know I love you so, so much. These past few years have been amazing and there is no other person that I would rather spend my life with,” he said when they were sitting by the same stream that they had first kissed at four years earlier.
“Andrew! Yes!” Claire shrieked before he even had a chance to formally ask her. He eagerly stood up and hugged her, spinning her around as he did. A kiss on his cheek from Claire sealed the deal and prompted Andrew to slide the ring on her delicate finger.
Awaking, she wiped her face and felt wetness as the boat continued moving with the wind through the water. “It wasn’t true Shiloh. It was too good to be true.” She sobbed some more, getting choked up at the end of her words. The very last thing Claire thought about him just left her confused. After so many years, why would he cheat on her if he was her “true love” like he had said? “Let’s go home, Shiloh.”