Negative Zero (Book 1)

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Chapter 13: Curiosity Killed the....

Chapter Thirteen Curiosity Killed The …

Three more days passed, and we spent most of them getting in touch with real estate agents and getting property reports for houses for sale on Tybee Island. I fell in love with a secluded, oceanfront colonial. It was a newly-built, four-bedroom home with three and a half bathrooms, a master suite that looked bigger than my entire apartment, and had a two-level porch. I was against taking a flight down to Georgia to check it out, and I didn’t want to take the time to road trip either. I guess I just felt comfortable since I wasn’t applying for a loan. It was straight-up cash we’d be using. I had to admit, the money did give me a feeling of independence. It was like I had nothing to lose.

Hayden liked the house just as much as I did, so we spent a great deal of our time asking everything we could about it. Luka even made a pit stop there for us and called Hayden with reports on the property’s condition. He said it was flawless and there was a huge front and back yard with a short hike to the ocean with its own dock. It basically had everything on my wishlist. I told Hayden it was a sign, and it was “the” house.

After all was said and done, I owned my first home at the price of eight-hundred-ninety-seven thousand dollars and some odd change. I let Hayden take care of the bank crap, considering my five thousand dollar limit wouldn’t get me far. I was getting over the whole custodian thing anyway and was happy to pass off all the dirty work to the angel.

My next feat was a car. With a new house to drive to, I’d need to be sure we had a reliable vehicle to drive to get there. I wanted a Mustang, but not just any Mustang. I did my research on the Shelby GT500 Coupe. The Cobra had five-hundred-forty horse power, five point four liter engine and I was dead-set on getting a six-speed manual transmission. I basically built the entire vehicle online and added a supercharge and stalker hood. It already came with ambient lighting, a cobra emblem on the grill, and the classic pony emblem on either side of the car, sporting its shine on both doors. I added ridiculous interior packages and audio upgrades. It was definitely necessary to have a good stereo ability in my car. Without it, my car and I wouldn’t get along so well.

Hayden and I drove down on a Saturday to the nearest Ford dealership and explained that we’d be paying cash for the vehicle. They had just brought a black GT500 off the truck that day with a mere mile on the speedometer. The sales guy insisted on riding along with us while we took it for a spin, but somehow, Hayden was persuasive enough that he let us go on our own. I didn’t want one of those guys breathing down my neck. I wanted to enjoy the test drive.

Hayden and I sat down into the leather seats and shut ourselves inside. I sank slowly into the seat as I inhaled the smell of the car. It was intoxicating, that smell.

“Oh man, this has got to be one of the best scents in the world,” I inhaled deeply again before putting the key into the ignition. “New. Car. Smell.”

Hayden chuckled. “I always thought your favorite smell was gasoline. Oh, and Caress soap. Although, you do like those dryer sheet-thingies.”

I wrinkled my nose at his comment. “Jeez, that doesn’t sound so good when you say it out loud.”

“It’s true though,” he declared.

I sighed. “Not entirely.” I thought for a moment, wondering if I really wanted to go down this road or not. “There’s a new one that trumps gasoline, soap, dryer sheets, and new car smell, now.”

He raised a brow to me. “Rrrreally?”

“Yup.” I strapped on my seat belt and started heading out of the parking lot with the pony. I wanted as much distraction as possible so it didn’t feel so awkward when I confessed. “And that would be....you.”

Me?” he questioned. I glanced at him quickly and took in his expression of shock.

“Great,” I deflated. “Now you think I’m weird.”

Hayden laughed. “Not at all,” he assured me. “Actually, I’m honored.” I believed him and gave him an embarrassed grin.

I was ecstatic to test drive the Mustang and got a little carried away on the entrance and exit ramps. I hadn’t driven in a while, so it was sort of nerve-wracking for Hayden, although, I was having the time of my life.

“For cryin’ out loud, Evika, this is a test drive! You don’t own the thing yet.” Hayden was squirming in his seat.

I laughed as I gunned the engine and worked my way up to eighty miles per hour on 77N. “Aww, is the angel scared?” I jeered. “Relax, I know what I’m doing, Angel-man.”

“I hope so because it’s a little harder to save you if I’m in the accident with you,” he explained as he double-checked our seat belts.

“You’re not even human, Hayden.” I giggled at him.

“No,” he said, “but you are. So cool it, Pony-girl.”

My eyes shifted to see his smirk. “Oh, how sweet. Did you just nickname me?”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Yeah. And I can assure you that a few other ones suit you, but that one is the most appropriate one for the time being.”

I laughed at his honesty and drove us back into the dealership lot. After parking the pony, I assured the salesman I would make the purchase of that model. The salesman, Todd, looked at us in shock when I said I wanted to put a down payment of fifty percent that minute while we had him order the extras I wanted. I already had the print out of everything I did on line. The dealership was able to provide everything I wanted on that car, all except the paint job. But I’d deal with that later on. The paint job was something I didn’t mention to Hayden yet.

My order was set and my GT500 would be there in less than a week for pick up. I could hardly contain my excitement when I finished “building” my car. The rest of the conversation was something about warranty, gap insurance, and all the stuff we’d have to deal with after it was delivered. I tuned most of that part out, remembering how the roar of the engine felt as I sat in those black, leather seats. Soon, it would be mine. No more depending on my unpredictable jalopy! We decided that we’d donate my VW Bug to Ford, despite the irony. I didn’t even want to know the trade-in value. Honestly, I had a feeling they should have made me pay them just to take it off my hands. Sadly, I would have agreed to do it.

I did happen to hear that the final price would be almost fifty-seven thousand dollars, give or take a few bills. On a normal day, in the life that I used to have, I would have had to smack myself to wake up, but not this time. This was all real, and I sat there in that Ford Motors office shaking my head and adding up the ridiculous amount I’d already blown. I waited for it, that feeling of guilt, remorse, clarity, but it never came. I never once had any regret in spending that first almost-one-million. Jeez, what was wrong with me? I think what helped with my apathetic attitude was the fact that I knew I didn’t really have to be responsible because Hayden did enough of that for the both of us combined. I already knew he was okay with my getting the house and the car. After that, I wasn’t really sure what I’d want to spend the remainder on anyway, so I guess I wasn’t such a horrible person after all; I was a twenty-one year old girl who inherited a twenty-seven million dollar bank account and only spent a million of it. I was in the clear from being placed in the greedy pool, right?

I contained my excitement, but only until we made it to the dealership parking lot. “Hayden, this is the best day ever!” I jumped on his back and squeezed him. To no surprise of mine, he never faltered. He secured his arms over my legs to hold me there, giving me a piggy-back ride to his motorcycle.

“Wow, Pony-girl, how’s it going to be when we actually come and get the car?” he teased.

I kissed his cheek and shimmied off of his back to get onto the Harley. “I’m warning you now; I am not responsible for any damages I do to your back that day.”

Hayden bellowed a laugh, throwing his head back as he straddled the motorcycle. “I’d need a bit more than a little thing like you to break me, Evika.”

“Hey, I can be pretty ferocious if I want to be,” I joked as I put on my helmet and hugged his waist, preparing for the ride.

“No kidding,” he agreed as he started the engine.

We drove back to the apartment, and I saw a taxi pull up to the curb in front of the building. Normally, I wouldn’t have paid much attention, but I knew Ms. Makerov would be coming back from the airport any time that day. We pulled into the side lot, and I think I may have leapt off of the Harley before Hayden even parked. I pulled the helmet off and chucked it at his chest before I darted over to the cab and, sure enough, there was the little, gray-haired Russian woman with her huge purse getting out of the back seat, her short legs hanging from the car as they searched for the ground.

I smiled from ear to ear as I approached her. “Welcome back, Ms. M! I missed you so much!”

Her little eyes peered through her glasses and met with mine as she looked up. “Oh, Mouska! You are just the face I want to see!” I took her heavy purse and slung it over my shoulder as she put her wrinkly hands on my cheeks.

The cab driver opened the trunk, pulled out Ms. M.’s suitcase and placed it on the sidewalk. “Okay. You’re all set, ma’am. That’ll be twenty-eight, seventy five.”

“I’ve got it,” I heard Hayden’s voice from behind me. He walked up with some cash and gave it to the driver. I smiled at his sweet gesture.

Ms. Makerov tried to grab her purse in time. “Oh, but I---”

“Don’t worry about it, Ms. M.,” I stopped her. “It’s covered.”

She smiled at me sweetly, then to Hayden, giving him a longer stare. The cab drove off, leaving us there on the sidewalk.

“Ms. Makerov, I’d like you to meet my new friend, Hayden,” I said to her as I grabbed her arm to walk with her.

Hayden lifted the suitcase effortlessly with one hand and held out his other to the old woman. “Pleased to meet you, Ms. Makerov. I hope you had a lovely time in Moscow.”

She took his hand and never wiped that smile off of her face. In fact, it became more radiant than before. “Thank you, young man, for paying cab driver. I did not expect for you to pay.”

“It was my pleasure,” Hayden assured her. “Shall we?” He nodded to the front entrance.

Ms. M. watched Hayden closely as we rode the elevator to her floor. It wasn’t a skeptical stare; it was more of fascination. I started to wonder if she was starting to develop a little crush on him, but shook that idea off as an implausible theory, for she was one of the wisest women I knew. There was no way a charming, handsome gentleman like Hayden could stupefy her in that way. It had to have been something else.

We walked her to her apartment and, at first, weren’t greeted by any cats except for Lucius. Ms. M. said that the rest of them were probably mad at her for leaving them for so long, but she knew that her neighbor down the hall had taken good care of them. Mr. Heely was a man I never got to know very much at all since he was always inside his apartment, but he seemed to open up to Ms. M. quite well in the years they’d both been living there, and they both had a love for cats. Mr. Heely never went out and was always a reliable guy when it came to taking care of those felines.

“Ms. M., I have a lot to tell you now that you’re back,” I started, “but first, I want to hear all about the wedding.”

We all made ourselves comfortable in the living room. Lucius hopped up on my lap and purred while I played with his fur and listened to the old Russian tell us about her trip. She told us of the family and friends she hadn’t seen in so long and how all the children had grown so much. The wedding was a traditional Russian wedding, which typically lasts for two days. I finally realized why Ms. Makerov was so in tune with my age group and the whole drinking scene after she explained that a Russian Wedding is an event where everybody must be drunk. The more liquor, the happier the wedding day. Being sober at a Russian wedding is simply impolite. I was fascinated by the traditions she explained to us. Jeez, I should have been born a Russian.

Ms. M. stayed in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow where the reception was held. Even in her early seventies, the woman could drink like a fish when such an event like her great-nephew’s wedding called for it. She explained that the wedding reception is only a success if everyone goes home hardly remembering anything and that she was so drunk after the first part of the evening that she hadn’t even noticed the bride was missing. The missing bride, of course, was another normal tradition. The groom’s buddies always steal the bride away and make the groom pay a ransom to get her back.

“Ivan noticed nothing! For almost two hours bride was gone,” Ms. Makerov laughed. “He was so drunk!”

I laughed, grabbing my stomach and looked at Hayden, who was also doing the same. I knew he probably already knew of the Russian traditions since he seemed to know everything, but I could tell he enjoyed listening to Ms. M. She was such a storyteller, and very good at it.

“It was very good time. I miss the old country, but home is also here.” She smiled and looked down at Allegra, the gray, fat cat brushing along the side of the couch. “Now, you have news for me, Little Mouska?” she asked me.

“Yeah.” I loved her for remembering. “It looks like I’ll be moving south, Ms. M. I got a new place and a new job.”

She looked at me curiously. “Oh?”

I nodded and sighed, trying to hold a smile. “I’ve already got a place near Savannah, Georgia, on Tybee Island. I think it will be a good move for me in more ways than one, you know?”

“I see,” she nodded with a concerned expression. “But you will not be alone?” she questioned, eagerly.

“No,” I shook my head, “I won’t be alone.”

She studied me briefly and then a look of clarity arose through her expression. She turned to Hayden, who was on the floor making friends with the orange Tabby, Ferdinand. Then she faced me, grabbing my hands, making Lucius jump down and over to Hayden. “Mouska, you must keep in touch whenever you can. You promise this?”

I looked at her incredulously, wondering why she hadn’t questioned the subject anymore, but she was always the most intuitive woman I’d ever known, so maybe she didn’t need me to tell her. Maybe she just knew that I would be okay and that I was making a good choice.

“I promise, Ms. Makerov. You haven’t heard or seen the last of me.” The way I said those words was so convincing. I meant them, but I didn’t vocalize them as casually as I’d meant to. There was a lot of power in those words, almost with a threatening undertone. I’m sure it was only me who caught it, as Ms. M. just smiled at me proudly.

She patted my hands and gave me a radiant smile. “You will find way, Evika. Find happy again. I know this.”

I was confused. “But, I am hap---”

“No,” she cut me off, her expression turning solemn. “I mean here, Mouska.” She placed her hand over my heart and pressed gingerly. “Inside here.”

I looked into her eyes intensely, and it was then that I knew that the old woman knew a lot more than I’d ever realized. Even though I appreciated her so much already, I had even more gratitude for her in that moment. Then, she amazed me even more with what she did next.

“And you,” she swiveled toward Hayden and gave him a stern look. “You will be with my Mouska?” The way she asked him was almost demanding. Hayden perked his head up and looked at her questioningly for a moment, and then eased his expression into one of contentment. He made it very apparent that he understood something as he looked back at her. I almost felt uncomfortable. Clearly, I was missing something.

“Always.” Hayden smiled solemnly at her. “I assure you.”

She bobbed her head in satisfaction. “Good,” she said, grinning at my angel.

I looked at them both curiously as they turned to me with caring expressions. I noticed that Hayden was now surrounded by five of the seven cats. “Wow.” I chuckled. “You have some admirers.”

“Can you blame them?” he replied. Ms. M. and I laughed. Hayden’s egotism didn’t seem to surprise her any more than it did me, and by this point in time, I’d already expected it.

After a few more minutes of aimless conversation, promising that I’d keep in touch for the fiftieth time, and assuring her that I’d say goodbye before moving, Hayden and I gestured to leave so Ms. Makerov could get settled in and unpack. By that time, all seven cats had greeted us and remained in the living room where we all were.

“My cats, they sense things,” she said to Hayden as we headed to the door.

Hayden turned to her and smiled. “Like you,” he declared.

Ms. Makerov grinned. “Yes, Meteo,” she said proudly, “like me.”

That was it. The little exchanges between those two was driving me nuts; not knowing what it was about, of course, was going to drive me mad. “Okay,” I tried to sound calm, but it came out a bit snippy. “What am I missing here?” I looked back and forth between the old lady and the angel.

Hayden chuckled. “I’ll explain on the way back upstairs.” He pressed the small of my back to inch me toward the door as I gave him an incredulous look. “I promise,” he made an attempt to humor me.

“Goodbye, Mouska,” Ms. M. gave me a quick squeeze, “I see you soon?”

“Yes. Bye, Ms. M.” I kissed her cheek. “I’m so glad you’re home,” I called to her as I walked out with Hayden.

He and I headed up in the elevator. I folded my arms and gave him my you-better-tell-me-what’s-going-on-or-I’m-going-to-flip-out-on-you look, and he relented.

“Okay, okay. I told you I’d tell you. Simmer down,” he laughed at me.

“I’m only waiting.”

Hayden raised an eyebrow and pursed his lips. He knew me too well. “Okay, do you know how I told you that you now have something called a spirit-eye and you can see all the angels, whether they appear in flesh form or not?”

“Yes,” I nodded.

“Well, Ms. Makerov doesn’t have the ability to see anything, but she has the ability to sense things...like an intuition. She can sense that I am a good spirit; a protector. That’s why she was so trusting of my being with you and the whole moving-to-Georgia thing.”

I thought for a moment, remembering the angel clip she’d given me for my birthday. I was taken aback at how instinctive she was: things she said, things she’d done for me. She never ceased to amaze me.

“So,” I said quietly as I stared off into space, “the plot thickens.”

“That, it does.”

“What was that name she called you before we left?” I inquired. “It started with an M,”

“Meteo?” he asked.

“Yes, that’s it.”

He grinned at me as the elevator door opened. “It means halo in Russian.”

“Ha!” I guffawed.

“What, you don’t believe me?” he asked.

“Oh, no, that’s not it,” I assured him. “I just think it’s funny she chose halo of all words to describe you.

He gave me a puckish grin. “I find it rather inspiring.”

“You would.” I laughed when Hayden wagged his eyebrows at me. “I was thinking of making spaghetti for dinner. Sound appetizing?”

“Definitely. Need help?”

“Nah. I’ll be fine,” I said.

“Hmm,” he said, “maybe I should supervise so you don’t destroy the kitchen again.”

I glared at him playfully. “Oh, you’re really funny.”

He laughed heartily as he headed into the living room and turned on the television. It was hilarious to me that the first thing he put on was Nickelodeon. It was almost like he was doing it for me. I heard the voice of Spongebob Squarepants, which confirmed his channel choice.

“Do you really enjoy those cartoons or are you just putting those on for me?” I called from the kitchen.

“You’d be amazed at some of the stuff I’ve tolerated over these past twenty-one years with you, girlie,” he called back, “but, if you must know, cartoons started growing on me pretty fast. I’m doing this out of my own free will. I swear it.”

I laughed and shook my head as I pulled out the contents for the spaghetti. I wasn’t doing Joel-style spaghetti and slaving over the sauce all day. I was fine with a jar of Prego. However, I felt daring and pulled out some bread, butter and garlic salt to make garlic bread.

I became lost in thought. I recalled what I was doing; I was in the kitchen making dinner for myself and my new roommate after just having purchased a house in another state and a new car that I never thought I’d ever be able to afford, all of which cost me almost one million dollars. Really? It felt strange that things were moving so smoothly.

I started over-thinking things. I mean, really scrutinizing everything. It was as if I was playing along in some fairy tale, and the fairy tale version wasn’t even the reality of what life was going to be like. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that the bank account was real. I knew that Hayden was real, that Luka was real, and that everything was my reality. But it bothered me that everything had just become so simplified. My dad left me some massive bank account and that was supposed to solve everything? It was bothersome to me that ever since meeting Hayden, everything felt like a fantasy to me because I knew there was more to come; there was a challenge up ahead, and I wanted to know what the rest of my life was going to entail. I was done with the stories and the explanations. I wanted to really know; I wanted to be shown.

I knew Hayden wanted to wait until we were moved and settled in at the new house before introducing the next phase - A.K.A. “saving the dead,” but waiting and me were never a good combo. The new car and new house almost felt like distractions or bribes. Were they? Was it a way to get me into a better mood before dealing with the dead? I didn’t want it to be, but part of me felt like it was palm greasing. Granted, I asked for the house and the car and had to agree to curbing the bad habits of my current lifestyle, but honestly, would it have even taken that much? Maybe Hayden knew all along that he would let me get the things I wanted. He’d known me my entire life. It couldn’t have been that much of a shocker that I wanted a Mustang so badly. The house? Well, I was being a bit ridiculous with the house, but why not? Buying it hardly made a dent in my account; that was my reasoning.

I drained the noodles, prepared our plates, and called Hayden into the dining room. I threw a salad together at the last minute for some more color. The garlic bread turned out great, and I didn’t even really make as much of a mess that was expected. I tried to clean up along the way, attempting to prove to Hayden that I wasn’t really that messy if I didn’t want to be.

We sat at the table and started eating.

“Evika, this bread is fantastic,” Hayden said.

I half-smiled, trying not to look ungrateful for the compliment while my head held so many questions. “Glad you like it.”

He studied me for a moment as he took another bite of spaghetti. I felt his stare. Perfect. I was never that great of an actress. “Okay,” he started, “something is on your mind and I hope you’re planning on telling me what it is.”

I sighed and looked at him. I knew I’d have to get my feelings off my chest. There was no doubt about that. “I just...” I tried to find the right words to explain how I felt. “I kind of feel like we’ve been playing house for the past week, and it really isn’t how life is going to be for me at all.” I waited for a response.

Hayden put his fork down, and I could see a hint of concern in his expression. “Playing house? You’re concerned that you won’t be happy?”

“Well....yeah....no....I don’t know.” Frustrated, I shook my head. “It’s like I’m in this little fantasy world right now, getting carried away with all these things. I mean, I’m happy about the money, the car, and new house and knowing the truth about my dad and where I came from. All that stuff. But I have this feeling that this life won’t be all milk ’n cookies from here on out. I feel like...like....” I couldn’t find the right words.

“Like the wool has been pulled over your eyes for the time being?” he asked me seriously.

I managed to nod, almost disbelieving that he declared what I was thinking so accurately.

He gave me a caring smile. “I think I understand.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. I get it, Evika. I can see how you’d think that way, but honestly, the car and the house aren’t bribes,” he assured me. I looked at him, incredulously. “Okay, maybe letting you get away with the absurd Mustang was a sweetener,” he admitted with a laugh, “but we can’t continue living here, so the house was a must.”

“Right,” I agreed. Then, I was quiet as I studied him, my thoughts wandering to find the next questions I wanted to ask, trying to figure out how or what I wanted to ask.

“There’s something else that you’re trying to ask of me,” he pointed out.

Was I really that transparent? I sighed again. I’m not sure what it was that was making me hesitate at first, but then I realized, not only was I unsure of how to explain my thoughts and ask more questions, I was even afraid to know the truth of what was to become of my life, despite how much I really wanted to know.

“I know you said we had to wait until we were settled into the new house, but I’d like to know exactly what this life entails for me,” I finally said to him. “I don’t want any sugar-coating anymore. I want to know the hardcore truth.”

Hayden nodded. “I see.” He paused and gave me a long stare, blinking a few times during what I assumed to be deep thought. I watched him as I waited for his decision, whatever it was. He sighed. “This isn’t really the best place to be conducting your first save, Evika. I’m a little reluctant about letting you try this right now.”

I knew Hayden knew what was best for me, but I really hated anticipation. It drove me nuts. In fact, I had more anxiety over this whole thing than I had over any other situation in my life, and it was starting to eat away at me. The distractions weren’t going to work on me anymore. I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms. At first, I thought I’d belt out with my ranting, but I was honestly so tired of pulling that card on Hayden. I needed to be mature. I needed to seem level-headed in order to negotiate.

“Hayden,” I looked at him achingly, “you know me. I hate being surprised and unprepared for things. I don’t like knowing portions of things. I really need you to level with me here. Please.” I pleaded with him while I hoped, with all my heart, that I said enough to get him to budge and just let me get the initial shock over with.

He locked his hands behind his neck and blew out an exceedingly long breath, leaned his head back, and stared at the ceiling. He was definitely battling some internal conflict and had to think it through, but I had a feeling I was done pleading with him, and he was going to relent.

He finally straightened in his chair and gave me a stern look. “One time, Evika. One time before we move to the new place. It’s all I’m giving you right now. We don’t even know how you are going to react, and you still need training and your own castors.”

I gulped hard when he finally agreed, but I forced a smile. “Thank you, Angel-man.”

“I better not regret this,” he muttered to himself.

I better not, either, I thought as I continued eating.

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