Demon Gates (Helena Hawthorn Series #2)

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Not So Happy Birthday pt. 3

They strolled along the dimly lit Dublin streets. Helena didn’t want to return to the apartment. There was too much to consider. So much, in fact, that she was beginning to get a migraine.

Saying nothing, Lucious walked at her side, matching her pace perfectly. Across the road from them was a park where her mother and Richard took her to play when she was little. She hadn’t realised she stopped moving until Lucious placed his hand on the small of her back.

“Is something the matter?”

She ignored his question and crossed the road in a few long strides. If he was going to play the role of her bodyguard, he would have to follow her. Even if he didn’t, she wasn’t worried. She knew this area to the last grain of sand in the sandbox.

Although she put some distance between them, in a brief second, he was at her side. “Helena, we should return.”

“I need some time away from the apartment. It is full of people, and, right now, I want to be alone.”

They entered through a gated side entrance and the smell of freshly cut grass assailed her senses. She strolled along the paved path, her childhood memories flooding back…

Autumn had arrived, coating the world in browns and oranges. The sun had already set and the street lamps blinked on. Richard brought her to a playground after work at the university. She wouldn’t talk to him. Her mama paid more attention to this stranger than she did to her daughter. And, when her mama told her that papa wasn’t coming back, Helena struggled to understand the concept.

Four children played on the swings. Their loud laughter ruined the quietness as the wind made no effort to produce a whisper. They traded places on the swings, the girls sitting in the seats and the boys pushing them. Their mothers sat on the bench, occasionally sparing a glance in their direction.

Helena marvelled at them. Would they accept her into their group? She ran to them, her heart buoyant with her excitement.

She tried communicating, but her words were in Russian. The laughter died and judging eyes assessed her as if she was some kind of monster under their beds. As if she didn’t belong in their group.

Two large hands grasped her midriff, and she became weightless. In a split second, she was sitting on top of Richard’s shoulders, looking down at the children. He sauntered over to the merry-go-round and lowered her onto the colourful platform. With a tender smile, Richard knelt on one knee in front of her.

“You will learn the language soon enough,” he told her in strained Russian.

Helena glanced in the direction of the other children. They returned to taking turns on the swings as if her existence didn’t matter to them. To them, she was invisible, like a memory of a motion or a sentence that held no importance.

Her heart ached at the bittersweet memory. She shook off the remnants of the past and peered over her shoulder at Lucious who studied their surroundings.

“Why did you return?”

“To keep you safe,” he replied.

“Somehow, I doubt it’s the real reason. You came here to keep an eye on me because you don’t trust me to look after myself. Like everyone else here,” she snapped. She clutched at the material of her coat, hugging it to her body. Why is it this cold in May?

Lucious picked up his pace and soon was striding next to her. “Perhaps that is half the truth.”

She snorted inwardly. “And what’s the other half?”

He grasped her elbow, forcing her to stop and look at him. “I wanted to see for myself if you were alright.”

Helena averted her gaze. The swings were still there. The only thing that changed was the new layer of paint coating them.

“When I first learned English, I was around eight years old. Richard would bring me here to play with the other kids. Although I came here often, they wouldn’t let me join. I almost believed I had some kind of disease. I would return home and cry myself to sleep. Always wondering what was so bad about me that they would not let me in.” Her throat was scratchy and her eyes watered. “That’s when Michael appeared for the first time.”

She sat on the solid plastic seat of the swing, her eyes focused on the sand beneath her sneakers. “Ever since, I had one true friend.” She kicked off and let her body move with the pendulum of the swing. “And now he’s gone. There’s this emptiness inside of me that I can’t understand. It’s like a part of me was removed without my knowing.”

Lucious slid into the seat of the second swing mere two feet away. “Tell me what happened.”

“Alexander would have told you everything by now, same as the vampire woman who was there.”

“I want to hear it from you.”

She rested the side of her head on the metal chain. Her attention wandered to the clear night’s sky above them. It was already dark and the light pollution drowned the brightness of the stars. “I was at home with Perri and Hans, waiting for Laura to arrive. When I opened the door, the person who stood there was you. Well, he looked like you. Lazarus shed your form and tried to take my soul, or perhaps changing my string’s colour was his goal. I don’t know.”

Lucious took one of her hands in his, and her fingers tingled with warmth. “I felt your pain through the link. It was as if he was seeping into my body and shredding anything that made me who I am.”

“Yes. Then your friend showed up, and Lazarus vanished.”

“Was that it?”

Helena shook her head. “Michael said I was no longer considered to be human. It’s the reason why he left me. The reason I’m alone again.” She released a bitter laugh. “It’s kind of funny.”

Lucious moved to stand in front of her. One of his hands gripped the chains of her swing, restricting her movements. He wore an unreadable expression as he said, “We are all fundamentally alone in this world.”

She touched the place where his string would have been if she could see it. “We aren’t alone. Our souls are bound.”

“For now. But when we find a way to break it, we will return to our separate lives.” Lucious pushed her hand away. “Let us return to the apartment. I believe your friend wished to congratulate you.”

“You haven’t answered my question,” she said.

“What question?”

“Is there anything different about me? Can you tell why Michael said I’m not human anymore?”

“Do not worry yourself over trivial matters. If you became a supernatural being, I would be able to tell because they emit different energies. Since he left your side, your power is less and your shields are weak. That is the only difference I can sense.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“I am trying to say that you are more human than you ever were, my dear. Now, let us go.”

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