Negative Zero (Book 1)

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Chapter 16: Perspective

Chapter Sixteen Perspective

As promised, Luka greeted me at the main door, holding his arm out for me to hold as we walked down the street. We found ourselves walking the four blocks to Maury’s. It was busy, which was a good thing since I’d figured we’d have quite a bit to talk about and would need the noise to drown out the conversation. We plopped ourselves in a nice, quiet end of the bar counter.

“So, Evigreen, you up for a Guinness?”

I smiled at him. “I’m up for a keg of Guinness.”

“Yikes! No can do, Soldier. I have someone to answer to if I bring you home that toasted.”

“Luka, I can handle Hayden. He owes me anyway.”

“Owes you, huh?” Luka chortled. He ordered us two drafts of Guinness.

“Yeah. Waltzing into my life, demanding that I change my lifestyle right after unloading this new destiny crap on me. I think I deserve a little slack here. An inch or ten, ya know what I mean?” I took a swig of my beer.

“You know, Evika,” Luka leaned into me, “when I told you that you are the reason for Hayden’s existence now, I meant that in the most serious and literal way possible. For him, everything is about you. Even when you think things don’t seem to work out in your favor, Hayden always has your well being in mind. And for that matter, so do I.”

I thought for a moment before answering. “I know in my heart that he cares about me...more than I deserve, but this other part of me feels as if he’s here just to challenge me.”

Luka chuckled. “And you see that as a problem?”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “Why do I need any more challenge than I have already? I save dead people. I see their sins. I see demonic monsters lurking around the neighborhood, and I now have to worry about some Phantom thing that has been hunting me almost my entire life.”

He wrinkled his nose. “That all does sound sort of morbid, doesn’t it?”

I sighed. “Why does this have to be so hard for me?”

Luka thought for a moment. “Maybe you’re being tested.”

“By who? Hayden?”

“No,” he shook his head. “Not Hayden.”

I wondered, then the realization hit me. “You mean God,” I declared.

He smirked. “Yep.” I looked at him, hoping he’d have more to add to that comment. He didn’t disappoint. “There are no mistakes, Evigreen. You’re meant for this life, and that gift you possess, I’m sorry to say, is meant for you. There’s always a reason.”

“But why, Luka? Haven’t I been tested enough already?” I felt the prickling in my eyes and my throat start to close. “I feel like I’m about to break into a million pieces because I....I don’t think I’ll be able to hold myself together through all of this.” I looked down at the floor, recalling the images of the first Seeker once again. It hurt to even know what she’d done, let alone see it and live through it in that flash of time. “Luka, I don’t feel any sympathy at all for that Seeker, yet I have to wake up tomorrow morning and save her and let her move on to a better place after what she did.” I lifted my head to catch his solemn eyes looking at me.

He took my hands in his. “Evika, could you try something for me?” he asked.

I looked at him curiously. “What?” I shrugged.

“Try a new perspective,” he said simply.

“A new perspective,” I repeated. “What do you mean?”

“I mean just that, try to see this from another angle. As far as the Phantom goes, Hayden and I have you covered. Well,” he thought for a moment, “the entire Council even has you covered. Trust me, you are safe. And as for the Seekers, all of them are placed in the dark realm for a reason and, apparently, you are able to see what those reasons are, but they aren’t able to come to you until they’ve repented enough. That’s how this works. They remain in the dark realm until it is their time to move on. When they come out of that darkness, they seek light. For them, it’s like awakening from a nightmare, the agony of the punishment they are put through. The Seekers have an unspoken rule about the ‘next in line.’ Most of them have waited even longer than they were supposed to, especially after your father was ordered to stop his mission.” Luka studied me for a moment. I became aware that my expression was blank as I listened to him. I was trying hard to understand.

“Evika,” Luka sighed, “my point here is this; you are seeing only their past, the evil, the wrong-doings. You and I, and of course, Hayden, each know that you have an uncanny ability to see a good in people even when others do not. These souls wouldn’t be able to come to you to move on unless they’ve found the light within them. Somehow, someway, you need to try and find the strength within you to see it too.”

I contemplated about his theory, his suggestion to my perceiving this curse from a completely different angle. I was quiet for a long time, as I really tried to see it his way. I wanted to, because if I didn’t, my life was going to be a wreck until it was over. I knew it wasn’t going to be that simple though. Like everything else, it was going to be a massive challenge. We sat there, comfortably quiet, exchanging smiles as we took sips of our beers.

“Hey Luka,” I asked him. “What does tenebrae mean?”

He looked at me curiously. “It’s Latin for ‘darkness.’ Why?” I looked at him as I thought of the creature hissing the word to me. I was afraid to tell him, but of course, he knew. His brow wrinkled as I didn’t answer. “Oh, for the love of---” he cut himself off and leaned into me. “It spoke to you, didn’t it?”

I nodded slowly.

“Did you see its eyes?” he inquired, nervously.

“Yes.”

“And what did you see?”

“I don’t know, just flame, like a fire. And then they went almost black for a quick second right before you showed up. Why?”

“Dammit, Evika. You can’t do that ever again. Do you understand?” He sounded irritated.

“Okay, I’m sorry,” I said defensively. “What did I do wrong?”

“The Watchers are like Alysto’s eyes when he’s not around. You can’t open yourself up to them like that. It’s imperative that you heed my advice.”

“All right. I just...,” I trailed off, frustrated. “I don’t know all of these rules, Luka. Hayden doesn’t explain this stuff to me.”

“It’s because he’s only trying to protect you.”

“From what? Knowledge of the underworld? It’s doing more harm than good.”

“He’s trying to keep this as normal of a life as possible for you.”

I rolled my eyes. “A little late for that now, isn’t it?” I said pointedly.

Luka sighed. “I know.”

“Did it ever occur to him that these little tidbits of information would be helpful for me to know?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I don’t think he was ever expecting you to go running off, trying to talk with little demons, Evika,” he said playfully as he nudged me in the arm. “You kinda pulled a fast one him tonight, so he’s going to have a tight leash on you from now on. You know that, right?”

“Doesn’t surprise me one bit,” I said.

Luka took a gulp of his beer, then studied me. “So, why were you really out there tonight?” It was the inevitable question I knew I would have to answer.

“Hayden got his panties in a bunch over something I said to him,” I admitted.

“Well, what the hell did you say?” he asked, eyebrows raised.

“Just that he couldn’t possibly know what I was feeling because he didn’t see what I saw when I was with that Seeker.”

“Oh,” he put his beer down and turned to me in his stool. “Do you mind my asking what you witnessed?”

The images flooded back again. Sylvia’s face, the face of her children and their little bodies. “A woman murdered her two children....and then killed herself right after.” My voice was barely a whisper.

Luka grimaced. Concern hit his expression. I knew he knew something. “I see,” he said. “I’m guessing he never got a chance to tell you why that bothered him so much, what you said to him?”

“No. He never tried.” I shrugged. “Not like I gave him much of a chance anyway when I ran off like I did. The last thing I told him was to go to hell.”

Luka sucked air through his teeth. “Oh, Evika. Ouch.”

I looked shamefully at the bar counter as I thought about the words I spoke to Hayden. Some of the things that escaped my mouth were just awful sometimes. “I was really upset about everything, but that’s no excuse for what I said.”

Luka took a deep breath. “It’s not really my place to tell you his story, but I know that if you ask him, he will tell you about his trial.”

I looked at him inquisitively. “Hayden took a trial? Like you?”

“Not exactly,” he said solemnly. “It was more of a forced trial. It was right before you were born,” Luka explained. “Just mention it to him the next time you guys talk if he doesn’t say something first. I believe that would explain why he was so hurt by what you said.”

As much as I wanted to know the story then, I respected Luka for his censoring Hayden’s past. I took note that Luka and I had really been getting a lot accomplished in talking and, just as I felt the very first day I met him, I was more prone to listening to him and heeding what he said.

“So, why Hayden?” I asked. Luka looked bewildered. “For me, I mean. Why wasn’t it you?”

“As your Guardian?” he asked me. I nodded. Luka smirked. “Hayden was undoubtedly meant for you, Evika. Especially for this gig. As for me,” he sighed, “looks like I’m the unofficial back-up along with being some sort of mediator.” He laughed.

I smiled at him and giggled. “Lucky you, huh?”

“Lucky me,” he bobbed his head and grinned. “Besides, whether you want to admit it or not, I know that you’re crazy about him.” He chuckled.

“What?” I was appalled.

He laughed heartily. “Oh, come on, Evigreen. I wasn’t created yesterday,” he teased. “I can see it.”

I shook my head, embarrassed, but I couldn’t hide my smile. “Crazy about him? More like he drives me crazy.”

“Ah,” Luka nudged me, “but a good crazy.” I rolled my eyes and downed the rest of my beer. I looked over at him and laughed. He was still grinning. “I know what I’m talking about.”

“Maybe,” I humored him.

“Definitely,” he corrected me. “Just admit it,” he taunted.

I looked at my empty beer bottle and wished I could have ordered a night cap. I really knew I could have used one. Then, a thought occurred to me. “Okay, Luka.” I smiled deviously. “If I admit it, out loud, that I have a thing for Hayden, then I get one more drink tonight.”

“Hmm.” He looked at me incredulously. “You’re trying to weasel me into that? You know it’s gonna get me into serious trouble.”

“Ah, come on. Consider it my last hoorah before Hayden tightens the leash.” I made air quotes around that last part.

Luka raised one eyebrow and leaned into me. “What’s the drink of choice then?”

I smiled at him, then raised my hand to the bartender and shouted, “Sir, could we get two double shots of Jager over here?”

Luka’s eyes widened. “That’s your drink of choice?” he sounded frightened.

“Relax, Charmin,” I patted his knee. “One of ’em is yours.”

A look of worry plastered across Luka’s face as the bartender clanked our shots down onto the counter in front of us. “Ooo, Evigreen. Letting you drink like this will put me straight to the top of Hayden’s shit list,” he warned me.

I smirked at him as I took my glass in hand. “You ready?”

His expression slowly turned to one of confidence as he sat up straight, and a puckish grin grew on his face. “All right, then,” he said mischievously. I started to wonder why his self-assuredness in this bet formed so quickly after just seeing him grow weary of it, but we clanked our glasses together and downed the shots in no time flat. Memories of my birthday flashed through my mind, and I shoved them away. The empty glasses were back on the counter simultaneously and we looked at each other for a moment.

“Okay,” I said, “I admit that I’m crazy about---”

“Not so fast,” Luka put his hand up and grinned widely.

“Luka, what are you doing? I’m holding up my end of the bargain.”

He wagged his eyebrows at me. “Why not make this a little more interesting?”

My stomach sank. “No way. You can’t just change the stakes like that.”

“Technically, I’m not changing anything. We weren’t really being that specific before we made the bet, Miss Two-double-shots-of-Jager,” he jeered.

“Okay, okay. What do you want?” I could feel the alcohol stirring in my stomach.

He grinned wickedly. “I already know you’re falling for Hayden, so admitting it out loud to me is simply redundant, don’t you think?”

I felt the look of dread wash over my face. “Luka, you can’t do that to me,” I begged.

He laughed. “All you have to do is tell Hayden what you were about to tell me. That’s all.”

“That’s all, huh?” I tried to act nonchalant about it, but inside, I wanted to die.

“That’s all,” he confirmed.

“What’s in it for you?” I poked as I folded my arms.

“Other than teaching you a lesson for bamboozling me into letting you drink more? Nothing.” He chuckled.

“So how will you know if I told him or not?”

“Oh believe me,” he winked. “I’ll know.”

I couldn’t elude the effects of the alcohol at that point and figured it would be a good time to go. I’d hoped that I had enough in me that I could brave up and just tell Hayden two of the things that I knew I would have to tell him before I even thought about going to bed. One, I was going to sincerely apologize for the things I’d said to him and for running off. I felt myself cower as I thought about having to say I was sorry. It just wasn’t something I liked doing: admitting I was wrong.

And two, I had to hold up my end of the bargain and tell him I was crazy about him. I felt buzzed enough that it sounded like a piece of cake, and I hoped that buzz would last until after I got home and through the door.

Luka paid the tab, and we headed out of the bar. As soon as I stood, I realized I couldn’t very well. Luka was swift on his feet and came to my side before I even started wobbling.

“What, are you a lightweight now?” he poked.

I held onto him as we walked, then stopped in mid-step to ask him. “Luka, can I have a piggy-back ride? Please?” I batted my lashes.

“Just as long as you promise to act sober once I get you back home,” he said playfully, shaking his head. “Jeez, Evika, he’s going to kill me.”

“I’ll protect you, Charmin.” I laughed as I hopped on his back while his arms locked under my legs. Just like Hayden, Luka was unshakable when he carried me. As he walked, I closed my eyes and laid my head against his neck, listening to the sounds of the cars and people around us. I felt safe and happy and noticed it was a huge change from what I’d felt hours ago. Despite those last shots really kicking in, I focused on the turn of events that took place that night.

We were waiting at one of the crosswalks when Luka turned his head to me. “You okay back there?”

“Yup,” I said. “Just thinking.”

“Well, don’t think too hard. I need you awake when we get there.” He laughed.

I was afraid to say the thought I had out loud, but I managed to blurt it out anyway. “Luka, what if I’m just as dark inside as he is?”

Luka started crossing the street and balked for a moment, confused. “Who?”

“Alysto,” I said softly.

“Now, why would you think something asinine like that, Evigreen?”

I was quiet for a moment before giving my answer, hesitating on how to explain my reasoning. “Because of how I feel about that Seeker.”

A genuine smile grew on his face when he turned his head to the side again. “Fear not, my Evigreen.” He patted my leg. “You are nothing like him. I promise you this. Nothing dark, only human.”

He really believed every bit of what he told me, and I was grateful for his sincerity, but a fear instilled within me; maybe I was the only one who knew something was wrong with me. A new door had been opened that night, one that would pave the way of a new and perilous road for me. I could have sat there until I was blue in the face and argued with Luka that I felt it, but he would have only disagreed and said I was being foolish. What was this bad feeling festering inside of me? A strong loathing for only one woman, what was this darkness that ignited within? A tiny flame of hate that could build into an ominous blanket of terrifying wrath if I couldn’t control it? I needed to find that good within me that I always had. I was horrified that if I let go of myself, I would lose the better part of me entirely.

Luka let me ride piggy-back all the way to the elevator and then put me down as we took it up to my floor. I leaned on him the entire ride up.

“Well, Ev,” Luka started, “this was a lot of fun, you and me, tonight, but I kinda have to start being a better role model for you since I’m going to be around more often now. So next time, we’ll go bowling or something, okay?” He smiled sincerely.

I laughed lightly at how adorable he sounded. “Bowling sounds great, Lukster.” I kissed his cheek. “Hey, I was wondering,” I said. “Could you maybe come back in the morning when I have to, you know, do the save?”

He bobbed his head. “I’ll be there.”

I beamed at his loyalty.

The elevator reached my floor and the doors opened. “G’night, Luka,” I said as I headed out into the hall.

“Hey, Evika?” I heard the elevator door jam and turned to see Luka’s foot holding it open. I looked up at him curiously to see his solemn expression. “You don’t really have to tell him if you don’t want to. I’ll understand.”

I thought about what he said for a moment, my ticket to getting out of thing-number-two that I would have to tell Hayden, but I realized the bet was only a catalyst to get me to do what I’d wanted to do all along. I grinned at Luka. “Actually, I think I do,” I told him.

He smirked back at me and pulled his foot in, letting the doors close, and I headed down the hall to my door.

As I fumbled for my keys, all I could think of was Hayden waiting up for me, ready to nag at me for my behavior, not to mention the drinking I’d done that night. As I walked into the dark apartment, I saw only Hayden’s silhouette from the light of the window. I breathed in deeply as I stumbled in and closed the door behind me as I waited for his lecturing to start. I waited for him to repeat to me that I was a big pain in his ass, but, to my surprise, he was silent. To me, that meant something worse.

I could see him turn and face me with his arms folded. I rolled my eyes and immediately became defensive. “Well, you obviously have something to say to me,” I said unenthusiastically. “So, just say it.”

“Evika,” his voice sounded so small, “I’m sorry for what I said to you before you ran off tonight.” I was confused as I listened to him. “I’m sure that, had I handled the situation differently, you never would have darted out of here. I was just really upset over what happened when you came back to me,” he continued. “I was upset that you saw those things,” he paused for a moment, “and I was hurt when you thought I couldn’t relate to how you felt because I’ve seen what people have done too.” His arms dropped to his sides and he took a few steps toward me. “Evika, I’m truly sorry that I snapped at you like that, especially when it was when you needed me the most. It was wrong.”

My defenses dissipated and a warmth started coming back to me. I gazed into those emerald eyes and found my angel again, the strong, caring, masculine icon of that hope I needed to get me to breathe again. I felt the prickling in my eyes forcing me to relent to those tears. It was all he had to say in order to redeem himself as my hero. I wanted to run over to him and hold him tight, but my body wouldn’t move. I stood, rigid, by the door as I’d finally felt that cold in my heart wash away and my true self start to recapture me. “Hayden,” I whispered, “I’m so scared.”

It was less than a second before he embraced me, holding me inside his arms where I felt safe again. I felt safe from the rest of the world, and even safe enough to cry all over again. I threw my arms around his waist and buried my face into his t-shirt, inhaling him with each deep breath I took between tears. I could feel his enfold around me tighten as if something was going to rip me away from him. And it was then that I knew; he already knew how I felt.

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