Rich's mother pushed him forward.
"Talk to your auntie," she said.
Rich looked up at the old lady, a generation older than his mother, even older than his own grandmother. A scent of lemons came off her in small puffs, a not unpleasant smell that reminded him of his favorite pie that came topped with stiff peaks of meringue. That was the only reason he spoke.
"No one likes me," he said.
"Bad luck," his mother prompted. "You have bad luck."
Rich shrugged his shoulders helplessly. It was true. He'd get hit by baseballs if he even walked near a field where a game was being played, would get stung by bees in grocery stores, and he tripped constantly over invisible objects. It was because of a constant string of bad luck that other kids didn't like him.
"The boy is 10?" The old woman looked up at his mother, who nodded somberly. "I suppose you're here about an angel."
Rich looked back at his mother in surprise. He hadn't realized why she brought him to the old woman's basement apartment.
"He's a good boy," she begged. "He deserves one."
"Mom," he protested.
"Leave him here with me for a bit," the old woman said.
"Mom," he protested again. His mother turned away quickly and shut the door as she left.
He faced the old woman again, more uncomfortable than ever.
"This was my mom's idea," he said. "I don't want to be here."
She studied him closely and his skin prickled as her eyes crawled over him.
"You already have an angel," the old lady said, enunciating each word. "She doesn't like you."
Rich frowned. He wondered if his mother knew the old lady was crazy. He knew though that if he went outside right away, his mother would be angry.
"I don't think that's how it works," he said. "If you have a guardian angel, they watch over you."
"Usually," she agreed. "This one'd like it best if you were dead."
Rich's mouth gaped. Crazy was one thing, but this was ... was ... mean.
"I only help people get an angel if they don't have one," she continued. "I can't do anything for you."
"I don't believe in angels," Rich finally said.
She shrugged and pointed to the door. Rich backed away, the smell of lemons now making him feel nauseated. He fumbled at the doorknob, finally twisting it open.
"Her name is Stella," the old woman said. "Try to get along with her. Maybe things will work out."
Bad luck plagued Rich for the next 15 years. He contracted herpes at 14 from a toilet seat, missed the SATs because of double pink eye, and had his identity stolen twice, ruining his credit. His first serious relationship ended after meeting her father, the doctor who had treated his earlier bout with herpes. He was laid off from three different jobs and developed a nervous tic. Broke, alone and depressed, he considered suicide.
He returned to the basement apartment one day, certain the old lady was dead. She looked the same, reeking of lemons.
"I figured you'd be back," she said flatly upon seeing him. "If she didn't kill you first."
"How do I get rid of her?" he blurted out. "This angel is ruining my life."
The old lady chuckled.
"Made a believer out of you, I see."
"No one else has the luck I do. I'll do whatever it takes."
The old woman pursed her lips and sighed her signature scent of lemons at him. Rich watched her whisper at the air and then she nodded. He looked around, feeling foolish for standing in this room talking about bad angels with a crazy woman.
"It's done," she said. "But you're not going to like it."
"What?" he asked. "What did you do?"
"There's a shortage of angels right now. She agreed to leave you to it."
Rich stared at her.
"So, um, just like that," he said. "Why didn't you do that before, when my mom brought me here?"
"Your angel thought she had a chance with you," the old lady said.
Rich left, shaking his head. If nothing else, the visit cheered him up. At least he wasn't sitting alone in a basement talking to the air and believing in bad angels.
Life got better almost immediately. He got a job the next week that paid twice his previous salary. Within a few years, he was married with a child on the way. That earlier bad-luck life faded in his memory.
They had a son named Tyler. Rich didn't mind that more children didn't come along. It meant they could focus all their love and efforts into raising one perfect child. Tyler was a difficult boy from the start -- with angry outbursts that metamorphosed into sullenness as he grew to be a teenager. Tyler's first arrest was for selling drugs; his second was for abetting a robbery. He was a minor, so he didn't serve much time. Rich and his wife first were afraid for their son and then afraid of him. They consulted psychologists and counselors to no avail.
Rich returned to the basement apartment. The old lady and her lemons were gone.
On his way home, police cars and ambulances raced past him toward the elementary school. Rich turned his car radio to the news and learned of the "Woodrow Wilson Elementary massacre." A cold chill crept over his skin.
"Where's Tyler?" he asked his wife when he got home.
"I haven't seen him today. Why?"
Rich turned on the news and they watched the chaos unfold at the school. Ten dead, 20 dead, 27 dead, the count continued to rise. Finally, there was silence. The camera panned as the killer's body was carried out. Rich and his wife looked at each other in horror and despair.
Rich understood then that his angel of death was never his own guardian angel. She'd been trying to protect the children of others.