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OBJECT of my PROTECTION

The Sentinel Series



A novel

By

Odessa Gillespie Black





















Copyright © 2017 Odessa Gillespie Black

ASIN: B01N1ZC7GC


All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the author.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidences are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblances to actual persons, living or deceased, or actual events is purely coincidental.


Printed in the United States of America

First Printing, February 2017


Cover Image by Winter Bayne

© Period Images


http://odessablack.wordpress.com

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Inable are the loved to die

For love is immortality

~ Emily Dickinson ~



Chapter 1

The Object of My Protection

Why was the sky blue one day and gray another?

If I wasn’t supposed to feel, why did I have an overwhelming sense of loneliness?

Would I age?

These questions and many others haunted me after I was born.

My birth had consisted of being dumped from a tube-shaped tank. As I lay in a crumpled heap on the floor, green fluid trickled down my body. Cold air invaded my lungs, but after a few coughs, the tightness in my chest subsided. As a blur of unfamiliar surroundings assaulted my senses, a quiet woman in a white coat hosed me down and used little care as she dressed me. In a cold unfurnished cell, I awaited inspection. That’s where my first emotion budded: Fear.

Out of instinct, I held my face still and sat upright.

As the dark-haired man in the white coat and stethoscope methodically checked me over, I stared straight ahead.

When he’d poked, prodded, and flashed bright lights in both my eyes, he grinned and sauntered away. He spoke into a box thing. “Our most expensive model is ready for training module one.”

Forty-eight hours and 37 minutes had passed since I’d left the tank, and I’d been put through 23 training modules. She plugged me into a machine, and flashes of history from the beginning of time until now passed in my visual field at 1000 slides per second.

On the third day of my existence, the man in the white coat addressed me by X-1689. “How do you feel today?”

The training modules were designed to prepare us for our clients and instructed us to report all experiences of emotion to Dr. Sturgess. An inborn instinct urged me not to mention that I was lonely in my cell. “I need food, and I await instructions.”

Dr. Sturgess nodded and spoke into a small hand-held recorder. “Aged 22 years, but with the street instincts of a child. This will be corrected with more training modules and exposure to daily life of a normal civilians. Notably above his class in all training levels.”

During cognitive assessment 3 where the doctor gauged my capabilities, I discovered I wasn’t just a cloned body guard with parts of my brain computerized.

After another man in a white coat uploaded me with a file called Alpha Security Version Three, images and thoughts opened in my mind.

Both men stared at me, which made me nervous.

“As a sentinel,” Dr. Sturgess explained, “You will be sentinced—downloaded and imprinted with protective instincts—to a person, a full human.”

I searched my memory banks for an image of him or her, but it wasn’t there yet. “To whom will I be sentinced?”

“We’ll imprint you with your client when she’s born.” The other man in the white coat and glasses slid his fingers over a device.

As I sat in my cell awaiting the birth of my client, defective prototypes returned to The Institute. As they passed by, I wore a stone set, olive face, with eyes as blank as a white sheet of paper.

After they passed through the double stainless steel doors, they were recycled due to imperfections. After three days of watching defective prototypes enter that room, Dr. Sturgess escorted me to a chamber with four white walls and a picture of a baby named Emilie Grace Ragin projected onto a wall. After an upload of her cries, scents, and biographical information, I was loaded into a car on my sixth day.

The driver never spoke, but glanced uneasily at me in the rearview mirror. His nervous scent filled the cabin of the vehicle.

I resigned to not make eye contact for the duration of the trip.

City buildings dwindled into foliage and heavily-treed areas. We wound up a hill and pulled through a gated community. Inside the gates, the house we approached was also surrounded with wrought iron. Double protection.

In a stuffy, black set of garments with a tight wrap around my neck that my training modules told me was a suit, I was introduced to the Ragins. The driver left me at the door of the house. My insides jittered, unable to contain my eagerness to meet my client.

Upstairs, the pink frilly bedroom had white curtains with little pink bows. The cradle, changing table, and refrigerator were the only things unpacked. Other baby items were in brown boxes marked BABY’S ROOM.

Angela Ragin brought the baby in to meet a few family members. Emily Grace was all I could see. Her pink rosy cheeks, a small puff of blonde hair, and curious blue eyes were set against a dull backdrop of black and white.

The object of my protection.

Sounds of her distress may have been permanently embedded in my brain, but a protective sense stronger than anything I’d felt, smothered me. Beyond any upload the Institute had given me, something deeper aligned with her. This was my human.

We were the same age, save a few days. We’d entered this cold world with no idea of anything else but needing something. A mother’s touch, a father’s pat on the back.

I’d receive none of that, but Emilie Grace would have it all.

The humans cooed and gawked at her, unaware that the overstimulation of different faces and voices were not having a positive effect on her.

People release a scent with every emotion felt and the baby was no different. She sent off signals of agitation as the adults made faces at her.

Another scent filled the room.

I wrinkled my nose.

All the humans exchanged humorous glances.

My lips pulled against my instincts into a smile, but I dipped my head and waited for it to pass. Within seconds I gained control.

No one had witnessed the anomaly in my facial expression.

Something about being in the same room with this baby increased the occurrences of malfunctions in my brain. A myriad of emotions that I could never show or I’d be recycled.

Pondering my existence, I sat erect in the corner of the baby’s room that first night.

Why wouldn’t my creator want sentinels to feel emotion? Wouldn’t it heighten our attachment to our client?

In whispers I’d heard behind closed doors in this huge Victorian home, the mother expressed her own concerns.

“It’s just strange, Andrew. He sits there in that corner for hours on end. He stares at her without a single change in facial expression. A normal human would smile at that child. She is the most beautiful and charming little being there ever was, but he just stares ahead,” Angela said in a whisper.

“You forget. He's not a normal human. He was designed to never become attached, just to do a job. Mr. Sturgess designed this prototype so emotion wouldn't muddle the mind when the protective senses needed to be their strongest. He’s done field studies. Ours isn't the first model he's sent out. You remember the success rate he’s had. How many families did he say this project had helped?” Jared waited letting his question sink in.

I never eavesdropped purposely. Hearing things only the best of modern technology could sense, I couldn’t block the sounds without some effort. A human with 20/20 vision could see only a tenth what I could, and in complete darkness, as if a switch had been flipped, night vision fanned eerie green light over everything within 100 feet of me.

In the emerald darkness of Emilie Grace's room, the whites of her eyes shined as her mother and father continued their discussion.

Standing over the child’s cradle, I blocked the rest of the conversation from the parents' bedroom. In a few short days, her feeding, sleeping, and bowel habits were downloaded in my memory circuits.

She was a joy to spend time with. But very stinky.

When she did smell good, I could have held her to my face forever. It calmed me when I was scared.

What it would have been like to be held by a mother or father in swaddling blankets and showered with love the way she was?

The Institute was my mother, and my father was a man in a white jacket. As far as he knew, I was half-man, half-machine and needed nothing more than updating, food, water and bathing. Like a pet. But more high-maintenance. Sleep was also not supposed to be a necessity. While our clients slept, we were to stand watch.

In the crib, Emilie Grace smiled up at me.

“They think you’re perfect, and that you never cry. We both have them snowed, huh?” Filtering every sound in the house for footsteps to the bedroom, I reached into the crib and swaddled her into a blanket. I couldn’t be caught holding her unless duty required it.

Taking a bottle from the small refrigerator in the corner, I warmed it in the microwave with one hand while I held the tiny human in my other.

Everything the child needed was in her nursery. So, that gave me a chance to feed her at least once a night without her parents knowing.

They thought Emilie Grace slept a four to five hour stretch when she woke for one feeding they missed. In the rocking chair, I fed her.

I had watched the mother caring for Emilie Grace enough that I had it down to an art.

Having never been spit up on, I had to be doing something right.

My 60th night with her, I realized something.

“I’m only five days older than you.” Staring down into her curious eyes, I adjusted her blanket. “And just because we’re that close in age doesn’t mean you can take advantage of it. I will be right behind you every step, every day of your life.”

Emilie Grace smiled around the nipple of the bottle and held my finger.

I think she understood me.

Other adults would have blamed her expression on gas bubbles moving through her intestines, but this little wiggling human was smarter than most.

* * * *

The grounds were finely groomed, and the grass had been freshly trimmed for the occasion. On the glassed-in patio at the back of the expansive house, a one-shaped candle in the middle of a chocolate and pink cake stole Emilie Grace’s attention, her eyes following the candle flicker.

From the corner, I repressed smiles that threatened my lips as she tried to smack the candle off the cake. Laughter, gossip, and the crinkle of gifts being arranged on the other side of the room filled the air.

Emilie Grace squealed as she slapped her sippy cup off onto the floor.

She’d grown even messier over the last year.

Glad they didn’t ask me to join the festivities, I scanned the grounds, waiting for an intruder to creep past the endless security cameras and guards at the gate. Boredom had set in as no sign of disturbance had occurred over the last 11 months and 29 days.

Husbands of the guests were huddled a safe distance from the activity at the other corner of the patio.

"…and he's top of the line. The best bodyguard money can buy." Of course, Jared left out that I had been purchased from an underground company, and that I was not what one would refer to as human.

"What's his name?" one of the men asked.

"For security purposes, I can’t give his name. It's protocol."

The men’s eyebrows lifted in heightened curiosity as their focus honed in on me.

Emilie Grace smeared chocolate all over her face and arms. Body painting already.

I almost snickered at her work of art. I’d seen a human doing the same thing on television in the living room one night during my free time. What the humans called cable television. It had become my eye to the world.

Emily Grace spotted me standing behind the crowd. Her voice was full of glee. “Dee-Dee!”

It wasn’t Daddy or Da-da, so her parents had allowed me the affectionate label.

“We can’t very well teach her X-1689, now can we,” Angela had said to her husband.

The one-year-old child was the first human who’d treated me as if I were no different than her.



* * * *



After Angela cleaned the chocolate from Emilie Grace’s body, and the guests dwindled to none, Angela changed her bottom, an occasion for which I always turned my back. I fed her, burped her, and rocked her to sleep, but I left the more intimate dealings of Emilie Grace for her mother.

“Well, Dee-Dee. I guess we have made it one year without anyone hurting our little princess. I hope the rest are as uneventful.” Angela closed the wipe container with a snap.

“As do I, Mrs. Ragin.” Making it a point to keep conversation to a minimum, I stared out the nursery window.

She had rambled incessantly during the whole changing process. Probably due to the lack of attention she received from her own husband.

I was a young man, younger than her, but she seemed comfortable with me now, after a year of proving that I wasn’t some psychotic test dummy sent from a human farm.

During the following months, while Emilie Grace napped safely in her room, I spent much of my time soaking up the human experience by watching TV and tapping into the Ragins’ Wi-Fi for quarterly updates from The Institute. They never bothered with queries as to my acclimation to my surroundings. If Emilie’s parents were happy, they had no concerns, I supposed.

After viewing hundreds of television shows and YouTube videos filled with teens, teen pregnancy, and teens acting out in general, I was worried. The rich child of an oil tycoon, I hoped Emilie Grace wouldn’t be too overbearing, and with extra time spent with her, I hoped to reverse the damage I could calculate her parents doing in her future young adulthood.

They were scarce, business and social life calling them away often.



* * * *



For the next few years, the more time her parents spent away, the more Emilie Grace and I bonded. Although I’d become more of a Nanny than a body guard, I didn’t bathe her or help her dress. Glenda, our cook, helped in that area.

While Emilie attended private school, another gated facility, I walked the school grounds for the whole duration of her stay, noting the slightest movements of people beyond the fences. Any threat would have been welcome. I’d been itching to use my abilities.

As always, there were never any attempted attacks, bomb threats, or even cats stuck in trees for me to save. I felt useless, other than keeping Emilie Grace entertained.

One warm, sunny day during her seventh year, Emilie Grace held my hand. She led me through a myriad of topiary in the back yard of the grounds. Her father’s guilt for not being there gained Emilie Grace her favorite animals formed from tall bushes as far as the eye could see.

When we were out of sight, her eyes big and full of wonder, Emilie gazed at me. “Why don’t you smile around Mommy and Daddy?”

Did she have to be so perceptive?

“There are some things in my line of work that I’m not allowed to do. Smiling is one of them. I could get sent back to the company your mother and father hired me from if they knew.” The sun warmed my face as we drew farther and farther from the house.

“Well, we just won’t tell them, then,” she said, giving my hand a tight squeeze.

“I would never ask you to hide something from your parents.”

“You didn’t. I decided it for myself.” She pulled me toward the wooded lot behind the house. “Let’s go to the tree house and play tea party.”

“And of course, I get to be the mad hatter. Again.” I had no choice but to follow her.

“Of course.” Her blonde curls bounced in the wind as she ran in front of me, but never too far away.

For the next five years, we made it threat-free. The older Emilie Grace grew, the more my instincts tuned to her. When I’d first come to the property and seen her, I had been programmed to react to her cry. My senses had advanced so much further since then.

When a car passed, I could decipher its motor type, the size, and make of its tires by the sound of the tread crunching the pavement, and even scent of the humans driving the cars. I’d learned to switch off my night vision so I could enjoy the night’s inky darkness. Even then as trees swayed in the breeze, I sensed only small animals scurrying between the trees, doing what animals do.

Though it seemed an almost perfect world for Emilie to grow up in, not everything was perfect outside the gates of her safe home. Tensions between our government and the free people had heightened, according to the news that evening. US officials had taken some of the most handsome, intelligent citizens in the Free States to the Center for Disease and Infection control facilities. There, they were only supposed to perform neurological testing, but, the news anchor said the government had carried out torturous acts and that some of the people tested had never returned home. The CDIC had claimed they’d been contaminated with some sort of neurological warfare by terrorists, but the mayor of our city had questioned their statements, demanding proof. With no warning, that station went off the air.

At least no one had tried to take Emilie Grace. She had me, and, as long as I lived, no one would ever touch her.

So, my client was safe. For now.

At age thirteen, Emilie Grace had grown by leaps and bounds, where I’d stayed the same. Not a wrinkle, not a gray hair. I was stuck with the appearance of a young man in his mid-twenties. The only aspects of me that could be considered changing were the new instincts I gained to assist me in navigating through Emily Grace’s everyday life.

I stayed outside her door at night instead of taking post near her canopy bed as I’d done when she was a little girl. The more she aged the more privacy she’d needed.

She didn’t seem to notice, but she had changed. That was a subject her mother should have touched upon, but the older Emilie had gotten, the more her mother was absent.

Mrs. Ragin’s heart rate increased, and a foul odor of fear emanated from her when she told her husband where she’d been on the nights she was later than usual at getting home.

How weird. What reason would she have to lie?

And Mr. Ragin seemed to be more involved than ever with his new company. He never spent time with Emilie Grace or Mrs. Ragin.

No matter. I filled in where the parents had departed. That was what was important. I had to be everything Emily Grace needed.



Chapter 2

As Emily Grace aged, new emotions surfaced. Embarrassment was one of my most prominent. Certain parts of Emilie Grace’s anatomy had become more pronounced, as I’d learned should happen from television and through books I’d studied.

As her friends in school educated her more about what she called puberty, she complained aloud about it.

“Why do girls hafta get these things anyway?” Emilie Grace said one day, wriggling in the new contraption she called a training bra.

I wasn’t sure why that part of the anatomy needed training, but I had needed training to learn my place in Emilie Grace’s life. Maybe the idea wasn’t so farfetched.

“It itches, and they hurt.”

When I was at a loss for words, I kept quiet. That was one of those times.

Emilie Grace was none too shy, and since I was virtually her best friend, she left nothing to my imagination in her long speeches about everything under the sun. She’d become much more talkative, too.

“Oh, I forgot, you’re a guy. Well, you’re more like my brother…or something,” she paused, thought for a second, then continued as if the thought had left her. “Anyway, my friend Sissy has a brother that practically has to see her naked all the time cuz they have to share a room. They’re poor. I feel so sorry for her sometimes, but she doesn’t act like it bothers her to not have money. I tried to get her to take what I had saved so they could buy another house, but her mama made her give the check back. Too proud, I guess.”

Her insightfulness was as staggering as her generosity.

“Well, I’ve got to change out of my church clothes, so if you don’t want a peep show, you had better wait in the hall. Aren’t we still going on a nature walk through the woods? I love the woods.” Emilie tugged her shirt up.

I hurried outside the door.

“Yes, we’ll take a walk.” I closed the door securely. Clasping my hands behind my back, I glanced both ways down the hall. Always on watch.

“You act so funny, these days. Why, you’d think I’d grown an extra head the way you get all goofy when I start talking about my body changing. Just wait, it won’t be long till I start my period, and then you’re really gonna love our conversations.” Emilie giggled from the other side of the door.

“I can only imagine.” I had never heard the term “period” before, but there was no doubt Emilie would educate me.

“From what I hear, it’s gross. I mean, really, pads, tampons, and feminine deodorant spray? Why in the world would anyone want to spray that mess on their cootchie? If you were a girl, would you? I mean, yech. And to bleed for seven days straight?” Emilie Grace rambled on as she tossed clothes into the closet. Soft fabrics hit the floor one after the other.

I sucked in a breath and held back my worry.

Bleeding seven days? From her tone, this phenomenon was normal. Although the thought of her bleeding at all sent my protective notions into a tailspin, it did sound pretty gross.

“Dee-dee?” Uh-oh. She sounded thoughtful.

I never knew what would come out of her pouty pink lips next.

“Yes, Emilie Grace.” I dreaded what she might say.

“What’s your real name?” She opened the door, turning a speculative stare in my direction.

I hadn’t used the term in so long, I had almost forgotten. “X-1689.”

“What the hell kinda name is that?” She yanked her door open and ushered me back in. Pulling her long blonde hair back into her hands, she put a tie back around it and looked in the mirror.

“I don’t think that’s proper language for a young lady,” I said hoping to divert the question.

She shrugged, plopped on her plush bed, and tugged on her sneakers.

“Is that what they’re teaching you in private school?” I placed my hands flat on my legs.

“They do teach us a lot.” She snickered. “I learn more from students than I do the teachers.”

That could never be good.

“Seriously, I am starting to get older, and that baby name I’ve been calling you is getting old. Can’t I call you something other than X-613 or whatever you said. That sounds like some sort of secret code or something. Are you sure you aren’t a spy?” Her face twisted and her eyes rounded, her imagination getting the best of her, as usual.

“I’m definitely not a spy. Simply a body guard.” A partial truth.

“Ok, well, I’m gonna name you then—since you won’t tell me the whole truth.” She tapped her chin with her finger and looked up at the ceiling. “Deacon. No. Dyren. No. Darren. Definitely not.” Her nose pinched up, then her eyes brightened with a smile as she nodded. “Dylan.”

“Dylan, it is then.”

“And I take it you can’t tell me your last name or you’ll have to kill me?” Emilie started out of the room and pulled me by my hand down the stairs.

“I’d never do anything to cause you harm.” I didn’t have a last name and didn’t want to embarrass myself by admitting it.

Emilie’s eyes brightened then narrowed.

My muscles tensed waiting for her next verbalized thought.

“Since, I’ve always been fascinated with Alexander the Great, how does Dylan Alexander sound? It’s a strong name that just screams greatness. And you are pretty great.” Emilie let go of my hand when we got to the bottom of the stairs. She held it less frequently than she used to.

“Whatever makes you happy, Emilie.”

“You know, I like that. Just Emilie. Emilie Grace sounds so five years old.” She dashed out the door of the closed-in patio toward the back yard.

The sun was high in the sky, and the heat index was higher than usual.

“Let’s get water before we go, Emilie.” I stressed her new first name. There were no yard workers close enough to witness me smile, so I let one shine on her.

“That’s probably a good idea, Dylan.” She said my new name back to me as if we had just made a secret pact. Instead of yelling for one of the staff workers, Emilie skipped into the house to the refrigerator. She was different than any other female I had seen in real life or on television. Most loved to be catered to. Emilie hated being waited on.

I might have needed to explore the human population from a different avenue.

So far, she defied all the laws of human nature as proposed by all the educational channels on television.

Emilie tossed me a bottle of water and hooked her arm through mine. “So, did you know my friend Roxie’s older sister says you’re cute?”

For the next hour of the walk, I listened with a slack jaw and a rolling stomach to how Roxie’s older sister talked about me.

“Yep, Lisa said she wouldn’t kick you outta bed.” Emilie giggled.

“What in the world did she mean by that?” I pictured some strange girl sneaking into my room and looming over my bed contemplating a karate kick to my throat.

“I swear, sometimes I think you were born yesterday. You are so sheltered. Where did they get you from?” Emilie rolled her eyes. “I know you know what I mean. You’re like 30 or something, aren’t you?”

“No.” I thought back a second. I couldn’t tell her I was twelve going on thirteen. “I’m 23.”

“Like I said, 30 or something. You may as well be retired and eating Jell-O on the front porch of an old people’s home in a rocker. Anyway.” She huffed. “SEX, she meant she wouldn’t throw you out of her bed if you wanted to have sex with her.” Emilie laughed and gazed out over the stream. The woods near the water fall at the right corner of her parents’ land seemed endless. The breeze whisked Emilie's hair over her face.

“Sex?” That sounded like some sort of torture device. I was trained in terrorist questioning tactics, but this didn’t sound like waterboarding or even the primitive drawing and quartering.

Emilie stepped back from me and took a good inspection of my face.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Her jaw fell slack. “You don’t know what I’m talking about.”

“Somehow, I get the feeling we have just breached a subject I don’t think we are ever supposed to talk about.” My stomach knotted in embarrassment. “What else do they teach you at that school?”

Emilie’s scrutinizing gaze traveled over my face.

“Just stuff.” She smiled mischievously. “I’ll drop the subject for now, but when I get older we are going to have to have a little talk.”

“I’m looking forward to it.” I tossed a rock down the stream. It was odd that I knew how to skip a rock across water but had no idea what in the world this girl was talking about half the time. There was so much The Institute had left out of my memory banks, leaving me to learn it from my client. Between television and her filtered ideas, I wondered if I wouldn’t end up warped in some way.

“Are you ever going to leave us?” Emilie asked, out of the blue.

My heart lurched. “Of course not. Why do you ask?”

“Well, don’t you want a wife and kids of your own one day?” She sounded childlike for one of the last times I would recall.

“Um, I don’t know. Maybe, I guess.” I wasn’t sure how you got either of the two and hadn’t bothered to find out because I’d never imagined being anything but Emilie’s sentinel.

“Well, I want tons of kids and a little house so that we’ll all be right on top of each other. Have you ever noticed how families in big houses seem to not be as close? Like ours. Daddy’s never home, and Mama…well, you know what mama’s doing. She’s never home either. And that guy that calls her sometimes. Ugh!” Emilie’s face twisted into a pinch. “I bet she’s having an affair.”

And again, Emilie saw and knew more than her parents ever gave her credit for. It was as if I was living with a 30-year-old inside a twelve-year-old body.

“I’m thinking of having a sleep over on Friday, and I thought I might invite Lisa, if you wanted me to. She’s 17, and she’s really into you.” Emilie’s blonde curls bounced when she tilted her head to the side and gave me that playful gaze.

“Um, I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m really not interested.” I had one goal in my life and that was Emilie’s safety.

“Don’t you ever get urges?” A small smile formed on her perfect pink lips. “I mean, you are a guy. Unless…” Emilie’s face was completely different than I had ever seen it in that moment. Her mouth fell open, and her eyes bulged into huge beautiful orbs of amusement. “You’re gay!”

Just from the tone of her suggestion, I knew ‘gay’ wasn’t something I wanted to be. I shook my head, trying to find words.

“If you are, that’s okay, too. I mean, I wouldn’t be mad at you if you liked men. I mean, they are cute. Especially the younger ones. Like that guy from that new music group. Next Step. Now he’s prime real estate,” Emilie said with a definitive nod.

“No, males do not interest me in the least. My concern is your safety, not romance.”

I did like how women looked and smelled. Guys smelled of sweat and the store-bought musk used to hide perspiration.

“Well, if you were gay, I’d still love you.” Emilie began to hum a familiar tune I’d heard on the satellite radio. “And you are better than a brother. My friend Ebony has a brother that gets on her nerves so bad she put bleach in his shampoo last week. He looks like a cotton swab now. I would never do that to you.”

“That’s good to know.” I laughed.

I loved to listen to stories of her friends. Sometimes, I wondered if she didn’t live her life through them the same way I lived life vicariously through her. She seemed to envy them, even the ones with the least money. Their families were closer, and she longed for that sort of closeness.

I hoped that one day when she grew up, she would find what she was looking for.

“Okay, I’m hungry. Are you ready?” Emilie prodded me, pulling at my elbow. We made our way back through the woods. Relief always settled over me when she was safely secured inside the home, so when the house came into view, I increased our walking pace.

Like a surveillance camera, I scanned the property. No intruders.

One day, I thought I might stop worrying altogether, but it had become habit.

Just before Emilie stepped onto the rear patio of the house, she turned with a thoughtful look. “You know, Lisa is right.”

My heart thumped in my chest. “About what?”

“You do bear a striking resemblance to that movie star, Bradford Smith, I think she said his name was. He played in one of those classic movies they made us watch at school. The teacher was on the subject of the government taking famous people for testing. He was one of them that got sick and died.” She considered my face with a furrowed brow. “You’re nicer looking, though.”



* * * *



Another year passed and Emilie became more distant. Her body and emotions altered faster than I could keep up with. Things that I didn’t understand embarrassed her now, and sometimes I would catch her stealing glances at me. I would smile, but she would stalk off to her room and spend hours on the phone with her girlfriends. She always talked about a guy she had a crush on, but she never said his name.

Eavesdropping on her phone calls had not been my motive, but she had become so distant, I allowed myself to listen in hopes of learning what she was so upset about. A lot of her conversation, I filtered out. She talked more and more about how she didn’t understand how she could care so much about what someone thought about her when he really didn’t know she was alive. All I ever got from the conversation was that she was so unhappy she’d rather not be in this house at all.

That wasn’t possible. I would have tracked her down in thirty seconds or less if she’d left the perimeter.

She knew this, which is probably why she never tried.

As years went by, I had more time to myself, and access to the television downstairs. At fifteen years of age, I probably shouldn’t have used MTV and late night television to figure out what humans, especially women, were all about.

The things young Emilie told me, introduced me to, or started to inform me of when I had stopped her short, started clicking in my head and making sense.

That sex thing Emilie had talked so much about didn’t look so much like torture, the music of today was promiscuous and degrading to women altogether, and apparently, there was a certain way to fry chicken without the skin on to keep my cholesterol down.

Relationships were especially confusing.

According to most girls, guys thought with their ‘other head,’ and if a guy in a relationship spoke to a girl other than his girlfriend, she would go into a fit of hysterics.

Males wanted to have sex with many females, where females were monogamous. It made no sense to me. The only girl I could relate any of the situations to was Emilie, and I couldn’t imagine any male in a relationship with Emilie wanting to go outside their relationship for fulfillment.

Though I was sure most of it was acting, watching a girl cry on television was especially upsetting. They seemed so innocent, much like Emilie. I hoped I never saw her cry.

I was predisposed to ripping someone apart if they harmed Emilie physically, but now that we were older, I wasn’t sure I could stand to see her in emotional turmoil, either. I had been waiting years to practice my actual job description, and I wouldn’t hesitate now. All it would take was some punk to make the wrong move, and I’d have my chance.

As days and months dragged on, Emilie Grace Ragin become a complete mystery to me. She spent hours in her room watching television, painting her toes, putting pink round things in her hair, or trying different colors of face paint.

I learned from an infomercial it was make-up, but it covered her natural beauty.

Since she’d become a young woman, she never held my hand anymore. It would have been weird, anyway.

Something strange had happened inside me changing how I felt about Emilie over the years. When she walked into the room, I swear I could hear myself sweating, and my insides rumbled as though a volcano were about to erupt inside me.

At one of my loneliest times, I’d considered holding her hand, but that weird sweating thing happened at the mere thought. So, I kept my hands to myself.

Talking to Emilie was just as taxing. For some reason, when I spoke, my words never came out right, and she ended up storming upstairs.



* * * *



The night of her sixteenth birthday, Emilie held a slumber party. Emilie’s parents were out of town on business, as usual, so I was in charge. Girls paraded all over the house for hours while I stared blankly at the television.

Emilie had friends now.

I felt as though I was about as important to her as a piece of the living room furnishing.

Emilie stood at the bottom of the stairs and stared off into the distance. The rest of the girls bounded up the stairs in their various animal slippers. From the corner of my eye, I saw her walk with trepidation toward the sofa where I had been lounging. I sat straight up now, my insides starting that volcano thing again.

When she was beside me, she placed her hand on my arm, her fingers grazing the sensitive skin over my bicep. Her voice was almost as soft as her touch. “Thank you for letting me have my friends over.”

Captivated by the way her touch caused little prickles of heat to spread over me and end on my cheeks made it difficult to speak. I looked to her hand. A weird gasp came out of my mouth along with my words. “It’s my job.”

She took her hand away. “Yeah, your job. Somewhere along the way, I thought that maybe I might become more than just a career for you.”

Where her fingers had been on my arm, little spikes of pain remained. I missed her touch, but I didn’t know what she meant by her words. And her tone was so sad.

“Have I hurt you?” I reached for her hand before it was too far out of reach.

Emilie jolted to a halt. She stared at our joined hands. With a sad, but sweet smile, she replied, “Never mind.”

“Happy Birthday.” I squeezed her hand. It was the only other thing I could think of that could have made her so upset. I hadn’t wished her a happy birthday.

“Thank you.” Her voice sounded smooth, like velvet on all my senses.

Emilie retreated to her room and closed the door. This time it wasn’t a slam. So, I wasn’t in the doghouse as the people said on TV.

Socially advancing myself with Emilie had been terribly difficult. Try as I might, I couldn’t make the man in the mirror seem any younger, nor could I mirror a guy’s reaction to girls. I had no idea how to be a man, so that was a fruitless attempt, too.

The network on parenting had said children would relate to people their own age and that I shouldn’t be too upset when Emilie shut me out. I looked like a man, and acted like a man from a country where women had never existed.

Too bad they didn’t have a body guard/companion network. That would have helped more. Then I wouldn’t have to attempt to be something I wasn’t. Whatever that was.

Taking a bowl of chips and dip from the kitchen, I resigned to vegging on the sofa for the rest of the night. Romance movies had become my favorite, but while flipping through the channels in search, a horror movie that looked especially interesting caught my attention.

Propping my feet carelessly on the coffee table, I crossed my legs, sank back into the soft plush sofa cushions, and cupped my hands behind my head.



Chapter 3

At around three o’clock in the morning, all the lights were off, the perimeter cameras were synchronized to my ISD (internal surveillance device), and the doors were locked, barred, and chained. Nothing would get through the doors. If it did, it would be sorry because I was on the other side. And I’d kill for Emilie.

I sank into the recliner about to fall into a shallow slumber when a noise at the top of the stairs alerted me to movement in the house.

Emilie’s bare feet on a plush rug.

She staggered down the carpeted stairs, causing me to catch my breath with each pad of her unsteady foot. Safely at the bottom, she passed me without a glance and headed for the kitchen.

Protective instincts alerted me when she gasped. With my night vision, I watched her stumble from the cook top island holding her hip.

With panther stealth and evasiveness, I stalked behind her in the dark. If she were sleep walking, I didn’t want to alarm her.

Since Emilie had hit age 15, her pajama pants showed more and her tops covered less. A lacy camisole stopped midriff and her pajama bottoms hung on her curvy hips. An uncomfortable, yet somehow pleasurable sensation snaked to the lower muscles in my stomach.

The bulb in the refrigerator was the only source of light other than the amber glow inside a small motion detector in the dining room. As Emilie leaned in and rambled through the bottom door of the fridge, my eyes landed on her perfectly round bottom.

I went rigid and held tight to the counter with my eyes wide. Everything below my waist was so hot. What was this?

“You’d think we were feeding a school of rabbits. Wait. Rabbits don’t travel in schools. What would they—never mind. Ugh. I hate health food.” Emilie’s irritated grumble turned to a little dance complete with her wiggling her hips. “Ahh, I’ve hit the mother load!”

My grip on the counter top tightened, and I had difficulty regulating my respirations.

Emilie shut the door to the refrigerator. When she found me, she shrieked and jumped, ramming her back against the cooktop island.

The container in her hand hit the floor, but didn’t open.

Soft tresses of long blond hair fell against her heaving breasts where she held one hand. The sensation below my waist turned painful.

“Dammit, you scared me! Where did you come from?”

For a second, I couldn’t make words, but then the dumbest thing I could have said slipped. “A test tube, they tell me.”

“Ha-ha, cute.” She dipped to pick up the container.

I stared dumbly at her.

“What are you doing up?” She asked me warily.

With my gaze locked on her, I ran my hand through my hair slowly. Why was I up?

The most alluring look of bewilderment clouded her eyes

I couldn’t help but smile at her. She was prettier than the girls on TV. “I heard something, so I came to check on you. You have an odd expression on your face. Are you alright?”

Her mouth started to open, but her pink lips trembled. With a quick little shake of her head, her focus returned and Emilie scowled. “W-Well, I was. I’m trying to recondition myself to the fear I have of the dark, but you just set me back ten steps.”

I had the urge to hold both her hands until they stopped trembling, but she plopped the plastic container on the counter and planted them flat in front of her. She glanced at me a few times as she served herself a helping of green stuff from the bowl. “You know there are other girls here?”

I nodded. “Six to be exact.”

“You should probably put a shirt on. Any one of them could come downstairs and find you.” She took a deep breath. “Like that.” With her gaze trained on the microwave, her expression remained serious but her heart raced and her respirations increased.

I scanned my memory banks. Only one reason she could want me to cover myself seemed logical. “I would never purposely embarrass you in front of your friends. I’ll dress appropriately from now on.”

She kept her eyes on the microwave oven door.

I moped from the kitchen. This was a new emotion, and I didn’t like it.

Emilie had never caused me embarrassment before.

“Wait,” she called from the kitchen.

Fighting the urge to hurry to my room to get away from the odd knot in my stomach, I stopped.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” she called.

I wanted to face her and possibly raise my voice at her for the first time.

She could walk around the house any way she liked, but I had to wear a shirt?

I didn’t appreciate the tone she’d taken with me and—when I spun around to blast her with all of that, she was right there. Nose to nose, her breath on my chest. The room was cramped, hot.

A glint in Emilie’s eyes mesmerized me.

The pit of my stomach ached and fire spread over my thighs. The arm of the sofa happened to be behind me. A good thing. My heart beat thundered in my ears, and in other places I didn’t understand.

My eyes widened as Emilie reached for me.

Her cool fingers grazed my left pectoral muscles, velvet brushing granite. Emilie’s eyes followed her fingers. She traced the outline of my abs, and then took my hand.

My heart rate accelerated as if I had pumped iron for thirty minutes straight.

I couldn’t move.

Emilie stood on her tiptoes. When her mouth touched mine, a new need I couldn’t understand compelled me to scoop her into my arms. As her soft moan filled my mouth, an alarm jangled in my head. Per my programming, this sort of touching was forbidden.

I stiffened.

She drew away slightly, her wide gaze begging for something. It was the look she’d given me so often, but I still had no clue what it meant. Light from the television illuminated her features in a beautiful, blue glow.

Synapses in my brain sent even louder warning signals to the area that controlled my urges, but there was a sizzling sound of wires as if they were crossed and melting. I had to let my knees buckle. The arm of the sofa saved me from falling on the floor. I withdrew my arms and held tight to the soft, plush material.

Emilie pressed between my knees. Mounds of milky white skin poked from the top of her shirt and a thin strap fell down her shoulder.

A noise escaped my mouth, but I couldn’t form words.

She pressed her breasts against my chest. It was like she was all around me, but not close enough.

“It’s okay,” she whispered.

I got my footing and dipped my head to gaze at her.

She was my client.

I wasn’t supposed to want her to…to touch me? I couldn’t stop my arms from going around her again.

Emilie’s breath wisped against my face as she worked my mouth open with hers. As soon as the moist skin of her tongue touched mine a scorching jolt slammed through me. Images of me taking her to my room and tearing her pajamas from her body troubled me so badly, I had to stop.

I gently but firmly took Emilie's arms and pressed her a safe distance away. “No, Emilie Grace.”

Hurt and confusion colored her face.

It took my physical strength and a few mind-clearing seconds to remind myself of my professional barriers.

Where had the child gone? Who was this gorgeous young woman with eyes on fire? And when had the straight lines of her contour turned into curves that defied geometry?

“No one cares what we do here. It’s just us. It always has been. You don’t want to say no.” Her eyes begged for something I didn’t know how to return. Her lips curved into the sweetest pout.

When my will power dwindled, my sentinel instincts caused me to tightened my grip on her arms. I never thought I’d have to protect Emilie from me.

“I’m your sentinel, your body guard.” My voice was unsteady and strained. We may be the same age, but this is a job. I’m not human. She wouldn’t want me if she knew the truth. Stop this. You have a duty to her, and what she’s asking isn’t part of it. Don’t compromise your integrity or her view of you.

Had that been a programmed response going off in my head or was it how I really felt? I’d never hated my life until this very moment.

“You can honestly say that the only thing you want to do to my body right now is guard it?” Emilie asked in a tone that made me so dizzy and confused that I thought I might give in and let her go on with whatever it was she had planned.

Hadn’t I always given her everything she wanted?

I would be complying with my client’s wishes.

Right?

Her eyelashes batted in crescents against her cerulean blue eyes. “I want you to be the first.”

In that moment, the human part of me, the primal male, needed to conquer the female before him. With labored breathing and blurred vision, I closed my eyes against her beauty.

“You need to go to bed.” I held her arms tighter. “Now.”

Emilie’s eyes flashed from dark blue to hard slate gray with anger. Stepping out of my reach, she wrung her wrists. Emilie stomped up the stairs, and not once did she look back at me.

The fire she’d set in my lower stomach didn’t go away immediately, and I was quite uncomfortable for some time after.

On the sofa, I closed my eyes and concentrated on my heart rate. As it slowed, the pain ebbed.



* * * *



On my stomach with one arm hanging off the sofa, my hand dragged the ground. I opened my eyes and rolled to my side.

From the kitchen, girls’ cheerful laughter filled the house.

I rolled into a sitting position and gained my bearings. Sleeping so deeply was unacceptable. The girls should never have made it past their first step onto the living room floor. I’d have to work on that. Sure to pull a shirt on before I traipsed into the kitchen, I padded toward the girls’ laughter and giggles.

Emilie hadn’t detected my presence when she pulled the silver ware drawer out.

“Oh, my god,” I slipped.

Emilie turned to face me. Everything in the room seemed to drag in a movie-like slow motion. There were bruises the same shape as thumbs and fingers on both her wrists.

“Morning,” she said her voice monotone. She put her back to me.

I started toward her, but she strategically slid around the counter.

“Your arms,” I said to her back.

She flashed me a look of warning. “You stopped me from doing something very stupid.”

A blonde-haired girl in mock pigtails, a red head, and a brunette with highlights of blonde stopped mid stir, mid-everything, to stare at me.

“You remember? Yesterday, when I almost fell backward right over the falls? I was taking steps toward the edge to provoke you, but you made SURE that I didn’t go any further. I’ll be sure to never do something so stupid again. I learned my lesson.”

Another new emotion. Shame.

The girls were safe for now, so I retired to the vacant servant’s quarters behind the house and shut the door behind me. Listening for signs of danger was just as easy there. I surveyed the property where I couldn’t hurt anyone. Eventually, Emilie’s conversation was the only thing I could focus on.

One had asked, “What’s his problem?”

“I wouldn’t know.” Emilie was angry.

This wasn’t one of our normal squabbles. Her tone of voice and the scent of her skin told me the silent treatment was imminent.

Sitting in the cabin the remainder of the day, I sat in a corner chair with the television off. With the superhuman ability to hear noises from a ridiculous distance away, of which I’d begun to hate, I had to witness Emilie’s enraged friends bash men.

She'd grown up so much. She had left me behind.

“I hate guys. I wish I’d never laid eyes on one. They make me so mad,” Emilie had said.

“I know, right. I mean…really? What did he think? That he could just kiss you like that then act as if nothing happened,” another girl’s voice said.

“Well, I think he’s just scared, and didn’t you say you think he’s from another country or something, like someplace where they don’t do things the way we do around here?” another girl asked.

“I don’t know. He just frustrates me. What’s so bad is I’ve seen the way he looks at me sometimes when he doesn’t realize I’m looking. I know he wants to,” Emilie said, and I wondered what in the world she was talking about.

Engines cranked and tires caught the loose gravel on the driveway. I thought I might be relieved to have the house back empty with just me, Emilie, and the help, but that just made matters worse.

After rapping on her door softly, I stood outside her room with my toes almost touching the door. I felt as though I was on a ledge.

“What?” Her voice was hard and unforgiving.

“I…Can I talk to you?” I had to apologize to her again for the bruising on her wrists. I felt terrible.

“I’m taking a nap.” Her voice was muffled and choppy now.

“You’re not asleep, or it wouldn’t be possible to speak to me.” I oscillated from one foot to the other.

“I’m planning on one. Could you please leave me alone?” The sheets and blanket on her bed rustled, but I wasn’t fooled.

“I feel terrible, Emilie. I just need to see you.” I rested my forehead on the door. I missed her. Everything was all messed up.

“You put me in my place last night, Dylan. You don’t have to worry about me ever trying to molest you again, so don’t worry.”

The door was cold on my forehead, but her voice was colder. “I’m sorry I put bruises on you.”

“You never talk to me anymore,” she said in a sigh, which was an untruth. She’d been the one who’d almost completely shut down on me.

I decided now wasn’t the time to point that out.

“You are my client. My utmost concern. You know I’m always here for you, and if you need to talk, we’ll talk. That’s what we’re doing now, isn’t it?” Resting my cheek on the door, I felt a little closer to her.

She was quiet.

Emilie wouldn’t speak a word to me after that.

I tried her intercom. No matter how many times I pressed the call button, she wouldn't respond. I tried her cell. No answer, no texts.

A day went by and nothing.

The cook brought her food to the door. She opened the door with ninja-stealth and shut it back to receive the food. With the same speed, she gave back the tray.

The next morning, I camped outside her door hoping she would let me in. I’d knocked at least thirty times, but she wouldn’t acknowledge my existence.

I racked my brain for something I’d said that could have insulted her to the extent that she'd shut me out permanently. My heart pitter-pattered on my ribcage as I thought about how long permanently could be.

I didn’t know how to talk to her anymore. I sucked at human stuff. How could I tell her that I was only 16, and that I hadn’t been around humans or had the chance for the interaction with them she'd had? I didn’t know what I was saying or doing half the time. Maybe even more than half.

I ambled down the stairs and sprawled restlessly in the easy chair, staring blankly at the television for hours. Strategically placing myself where she’d have to go by me if she came downstairs, I'd hoped to get a glimpse of Emilie at least once that day.

She moved around in her room, but wouldn’t even take calls from her friends. Was this going to last all the way through until the next day?



Chapter 4

The silent treatment lasted for an agonizing week.

By the sixth day, I was maddened to the point of complete insanity. My hands shook when she neared her door. My palms wrung with sweat, my body shook, and I'd forgotten even the basic hygienic rituals. I also couldn’t remember any of the stuff I’d planned to tell her.

On day seven of her seclusion, she finally sneaked down the stairs to go to the kitchen.

I knew speaking to her might set us back another week, but against better judgment, I took the chance. I stood from the sofa and intercepted her at the bottom of the stairs.

Emilie pushed past me.

That was it.

“I’m sorry I bruised your arms, okay. I was only trying to stop you from doing something that might cause me to lose my job,” I said. The job wasn’t really what was important to me anymore. I couldn’t imagine life without her, but I didn’t know how to tell her that.


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