Negative Zero (Book 1)

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Chapter 18: Elephant in the Room

Chapter Eighteen Elephant in the Room

I awoke to a hard knock at the door. I instantly smelled the scent of bacon and heard a faint sizzling from the kitchen. I felt the hunger. Then, I heard Hayden’s footsteps hustling to the door.

“Hmm. What’s your ugly mug doing here?” Hayden said, slightly spitefully.

“Well, good morning to you too, Darkwing,” Luka’s voice bit back.

“Take it down a notch,” Hayden demanded. “She’s still sleeping. What are you doing here, anyway?”

“I was invited, if you must know,” Luka softened his voice. “I’m here for the party.”

“What? Didn’t have enough partying last night?” I heard Hayden’s sardonic tone and could sense a bit of irritation.

“Hey, it was only the one beer until she became a little charlatan on me.” Luka laughed.

“And, I suppose, it was that hard for you to say no?”

“I brought her home safe and sound, did I not?” Luka retorted.

I was starting to become worried as I listened to their conversation, but I heard Hayden’s playfulness come back. “You know, you’ve become a real pushover since Jack,” he jeered.

“Ouch.” Luka chuckled. “Way to hit me below the belt. And for your information, we’ll be bypassing the bars and going bowling next time. I figured you’d appreciate my putting a foot down, since you’re so good at that and all.”

I heard Hayden sigh. “You know that I can’t always be the bad guy, Luka.”

“I know that,” I heard Luka mutter. “I never liked it either.”

It was silent for a few moments. Their footsteps traveled to the kitchen.

“So,” Luka started, “everything okay between the two of you?”

“We’re fine. Why?” Hayden inquired.

“Just curious. Bit of an intense evening last night. I know it caused some tension.” Luka’s tone was serious.

“We talked....” Hayden paused. “Of course, that was after she woke up at two A.M with a headache, but we did talk.”

“Good,” I could hear a smile in Luka’s voice. “Hey listen, Jericho caught me before I left. He wanted you to know since this whole thing is becoming a bit more traumatic for her than we’d anticipated, he’d be more than willing to take care of any slumber issues, should any arise.”

There was silence.

“He said that?”

“Would I lie?”

“Well, he does remember what that does to him, doesn’t he?” Hayden sounded skeptical.

“Believe me, I reminded him. But he seemed pretty eager to help out, so you should let him.”

“Huh,” I heard Hayden’s voice as he thought out loud. There was a long pause. “I’ll keep an eye on things,” he said quietly.

“As in, you’re going to poke around in her dreams again or will you just straight-up ask her?” Luka pried.

“I’ll do what I have to do to know she is okay,” Hayden answered with a slight irritation in his tone.

My curiosity peaked as I wondered what the conversation was about: Jericho, slumber issues, what it does to him, and just the whole tone of their discussion was somewhat unsettling. I assumed it had to do with my having bad dreams, which hadn’t happened that night, but maybe they anticipated something that I didn’t. I was especially eager to know more about Hayden’s ability to still have access to my dreams. I hadn’t realized that little talent of his would remain with him after we’d officially met in reality.

I checked the clock. Eleven twenty-seven. Jeez. I made my way to the kitchen and found Hayden tending to the sizzling bacon and other, various pans over the stove while Luka hopped onto the stool, unfolding the newspaper. Neither of them noticed me.

“Well, look-e look-e,” I saw them both look up. “I’ve got two handsome angels in my kitchen this morning.” I walked over to the counter and winced at the cold tile under my feet. It sent a chill up my spine that made me run to the stool next to Luka.

Luka’s face brightened. “Well, if it isn’t Evigreen in the flesh!” He winked.

Hayden smiled. “Good morning, Pony-girl. Sleep well?”

“I did, like a log actually.”

Luka smirked. “How’s that head?”

“Much better now.” I grinned.

“No thanks to you,” Hayden muttered to Luka as he pulled the bacon from the pan.

Luka held up the paper to cover his face from Hayden’s view while he leaned into me. “Darkwing’s a little on the perturbed side with me today. Although, I have no idea why. You’d think he’d throw me a hint or something.”

Hayden gave him a playful glare. It seemed that it was impossible for Hayden to be cross with Luka for long, which made it even funnier. I laughed heartily at the angel, for it was impossible not to. I was extremely happy that I’d invited him over.

I glanced at Hayden. He was zoned out, preparing the rest of the breakfast food - sausage links, eggs, waffles, honeydew melon slices and orange juice. “Wow! What got into you this morning?” I teased.

“Shocker, huh?” Hayden smirked.

“So, the angel can cook breakfast,” I declared, smiling at him.

“Yes,” he bobbed his head with a simper, “the angel can cook breakfast.” He continued preparing the plates, not allowing me to break his concentration.

I looked back at Luka, who didn’t remove his eyes from his newspaper, but plastered the most obvious grin on his face. He felt me looking at him and met my eyes, raising his eyebrows at me. I rolled my eyes at him playfully.

I took in his attire from the bottom, up. He was wearing black, shell-toed Adidas, baggy jeans and a white, long-sleeved shirt with a fallen stick-tree and a slogan on the front: If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it...who knew about the tree falling in the first place? It was a much different style from the casual sweater in which I’d first seen him.

I laughed. “Did somebody go shopping?”

“Oh, this?” Luka looked down at his shirt. “Actually, yeah.”

“I like the new look,” I approved. “Suits you much better than that stuffy sweater your wore last time.” I chortled.

“Why, thank you, Miss Stormer. Glad you approve.” A devious smile started growing on his boyish face. “And I was going to wait until later, but I guess I could let you have your present now.”

“You got me a present?” I got excited.

“I did,” Luka said smugly. “I went to the mall this morning. Man, it’s so much fun to pretend to be human!”

I laughed. “Enjoying our trial, are we?”

“Are you kidding? It’s like Rumspringa for angels!” Luka hopped down to grab the bag.

“Rumspringa?” I thought for a moment. “Isn’t that some sort of Amish thing?”

“Yeah, when all the teenagers get to go nuts before they officially settle into the Amish lifestyle. You’ve never watched Devil’s Playground?”

“Nope,” I said.

Hayden shook his head with a laugh. “You’re seriously using that as your analogy?” he asked Luka.

“Hey,” Luka put his hands up, “it’s a great example.”

I leaned into Luka and couldn’t hold in my giggle. “Guess I’ll have to watch it now.”

“Definitely.” Luka wagged his eyebrows. “Anyway,” he pulled the bag from the couch, “you have to close your eyes.”

“Hmm.” I lifted an eyebrow, incredulous.

Please?” he pleaded.

I closed my eyes and stood, waiting. I heard him fiddling around in the paper bag, then kick it to the side. Just a few more seconds and he was ready for me.

“Okay, you can open ’em.”

I opened my eyes and gasped to see an olive-green hoodie modeled across Luka’s chest as he held it up. There was a design on the front of two empire dragons airbrushed in black, silver, red, and orange colors. They were identical, each coiled to make a circular pattern, meeting one’s head where the other’s tail began. The sleeves had the same dragons airbrushed from the shoulder all the way down to the forearm part of the material.

“Omigosh, Luka!” I jumped. “I love it!”

“I knew you would! Check out the back. I found this thing at one of the little kiosks.” He flipped the hoodie around. There, on the back, were the same dragons, but one was perched on the top, left shoulder area, while the other was based on the bottom hem line. They faced each other, like in a dual, ready for battle. It was one of the most unique designs I’d ever seen.

“Wow!” I exclaimed. “And I mean W.O.W! This is wicked-awesome, Luka! You’re the best!” I grabbed it from him and threw it over my head to put it on. The inside was so soft against my skin and I could have just fallen on the floor and gone back to sleep in that thing. It was so comfortable.

As my head popped through the neck and into the hood, I saw Luka holding a proud look on his face. “Now, if that’s not an Evika hoodie, I don’t know if I’ll ever see one.”

I jumped up and threw my arms around his neck, squeezing as tight was I could. I knew he could handle it. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Luka’s laugh bellowed through the apartment as he hugged me back. “Jeez, maybe I should have gotten you the red and black ones, too.”

“You made the perfect choice, Lukster.” I kissed his cheek and turned to Hayden, who was pouring the orange juice, looking over at us. “What do ya think, Angel-man? You like?”

Hayden smiled. “Definitely cool and definitely you. No doubt about that.”

I skipped over to the table and sat down. The boys followed suit. We sat down and started digging in. Honestly, it was quite possibly the best breakfast I’d ever had, hands down.

“Hayden, don’t tell him I told you this, but I think you and Joel could go head to head as far as cooking breakfast goes.”

He laughed and gave me a big smile, flashing his white teeth.

“He’s good at dinners too, you know?” Luka added.

I felt my eyebrow raise. “Really?” I looked over at Hayden, who shrugged.

“Are you really that surprised?” Hayden asked me. “I mean, I am good at everything you’ve seen so far, am I not?”

I snorted. “You never will lose that ego, will you?”

He smirked. “Chances of that are slim-to-none.”

“The ego is definitely here to stay,” Luka chortled. We all laughed.

We continued eating, and Luka and Hayden were exchanging looks while we ate. Their secretly glances bothered me, slightly, but I let it go for a while.

“So,” Hayden said seriously, “you slept okay? Really?”

“Yeah,” I nodded with a shrug. “I told you, I slept fine.”

Those two angels exchanged a look again. I couldn’t believe they were either that naïve about my overhearing their entire conversation before I got out of bed, or that they really thought I was just stupid and wouldn’t question them at all. They had to have known me better than that.

“Okay.” I put my fork down. “So, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room, ’cause he’s pretty damn big.” They both looked at me, confused.

“What elephant?” Hayden questioned.

“Jericho? Slumber issues? He’s one of the elites, right? Part of the Council? Oh, and you?

“Me, what?”

I raised my brow. “Apparently, you can still meddle in my head while I’m sleeping?” I inquired, cockily.

“You heard all that, huh?” Hayden asked me.

“Well, it wasn’t like you guys were being that quiet about it,” I said. Hayden suppressed a smile while Luka laughed.

“Okay. Yes, I can explore your dreams, see what’s going on in that head of yours, but I haven’t done that for weeks.”

“Hmm, sounds a bit invasive,” I thought audibly. “And Jericho?”

“He’s a dream harmon,” Hayden declared. “He is offering his services, his gift to you if you happen to get nightmares. The Council is well aware now of this burden in seeing what you see. He can’t take that part away, but he can ease your sleep if you have those problems in the future. Did you have any dreams at all last night?”

“No, but it was probably because of my log-like state.” I laughed, turning to Luka.

A wide grin grew on Luka’s face. “See, Hayden? I am helpful,” he said smugly.

Hayden kept his eyes on me. “Evika, we can’t depend on alcohol giving you a good night’s sleep. You know that.”

Yeah,” Luka mocked. “You heard him, Evigreen. Enough of that already.”

I rolled my eyes and sank in my chair. “So, what’s Jericho do, anyway?”

“Ever heard of dreamcatchers?” Luka asked me.

I shrugged. “Of course.”

“That’s sort of what he is. His gift, anyway,” he explained. “But it’s got a reverse effect on him. Whatever bad dreams he takes from you, he gets stuck with them, should he ever become human. They’d be a part of him whenever he dreamed.”

My face contorted. “What kind of crock is that?”

“If he ever did choose to Fade, that would be a huge burden on him,” Hayden added, “but, trust me, Jericho has been around for centuries and has never opted for a trial or even thought about becoming human. He’s quite happy being part of the Council.”

“So, if I did ask for his help as my dreamcatcher,” I felt cheesy saying it aloud, “then I’d really owe him big, huh?”

Hayden shook his head and gave me a serious look. “Evika, you don’t owe anyone anything. Everything they do is because they care about you; that goes for all of us.” He looked at Luka, who nodded supportively. I smiled at the both of them.

We finished our breakfast, all leaning back in our chairs and staring at our empty plates. I laughed at myself as I realized I’d eaten just as much as Hayden and Luka, possibly more. I was stuffed. I saw Hayden obsessively checking the clock. I knew he was counting the hours before the time was up. He was nervous about the little task that had to be done. I’d known him well enough to see that he was reluctant to say anything, and it went without question that Luka was as well.

A certain sobriety overtook me as the silence became overwhelming. I stood, grabbed our dirty plates and silverware, and walked them over to the sink. Neither of them said a word, and their silence irritated me. I felt awful that I felt irritated, but I was starting to get that “alone” feeling again as I thought about what I had to do.

I sighed, leaning over the sink and staring at the dirty dishes. “Would either one of you like to acknowledge the next elephant in the room?”

I looked over at them to see my two angels look up at me pitifully, Luka’s sky-blue eyes as light as ever, and Hayden’s emerald, green pools staring into mine, so deeply. My heart swelled and sank at the same time.

“Ev,” Hayden started, “you know that we have to get this done.” He said it with such regret.

I nodded. “I know.”

All three of us went into my bedroom. Hayden set the castor onto the bed and I just glared at it, seeing her face in my mind. That hate I felt was hard to elude. It crept up on me so quickly, but I expected it. I sat on the bed, Hayden sitting directly behind me while Luka stood at my feet as my focal point. I felt Hayden’s embrace as I looked at the blond, blue-eyed angel in front of me.

“Remember what we talked about, Evika,” Luka said solemnly. “Try that new perspective.”

I sighed before answering him. “I’ll try my best, Luka. No promises though.”

He smirked. “Well, if all else fails, just think of your wicked-awesome hoodie.” His attempt at mimicking me made me breathe a laugh.

I closed my eyes as I held the castor in my hands, feeling Hayden’s warm fingers gently pulling my hair behind my shoulders.

“Ev,” he started, “based off of what happened the last time, I can’t be sure what you’ll see again.” He sighed. “I’m not sure she is able to control the things you see, but just be sure that you get her to take you to her time of death. Once you are there, I should have full control over what happens.” He paused, then lowered his lips to my ear. His hot breath sent tingles down my neck. “I won’t let anything bad happen to you, Evika,” he whispered. “I promise you.”

I gulped hard, wanting to believe him, wanting to feel the same security coming out as I was while going in. “Okay.”

“Take your time,” Hayden said patiently. “I’m ready whenever you are.”

I looked down at the castor in my palms. The bulb was still green, waiting for a second entry. I knew that the longer I stared at it, the worse I’d feel and the angrier I’d become. I hastily placed my thumb on the sensor and the castor opened immediately, just as it had the first time. The spirit mist rose from the orb, and I glared at it, hoping she could see that I wasn’t happy with what I was about to do.

“Remember, you must invite the mist in,” Hayden reminded me.

I didn’t need reminding. I remembered fully well what I needed to do. As hesitant as I may have seemed to him, I just wanted it over with. I had enough trust in Hayden that I’d be okay, and I felt even more balanced as Luka stood fast in front of me at the end of the bed, arms crossed, ready for anything that may come.

I inhaled the mist, feeling it enter me. I closed my eyes, reluctant to open them again. Once I finally did, it was her face that I saw. My eyes narrowed, and my nostrils flared. I clenched my fists and tightened my jaw as I waited for the next phase. She stood there, just as she did the first time, looking at me with that sad expression.

I looked into her sad, dark brown eyes. “Just take me to your death, Sylvia,” I said, spitefully. “Let’s get this over with.”

“I’m so sorry,” her voice echoed.

I scowled at her. “I’m not your damn after-death counselor, Seeker. I’m here to let you move on. That’s all,” I said scathingly.

She started weeping. Weeping! As if her fallen tears were something I would even tolerate at that point? They only filled me with rage.

“Take me to your death!” I demanded. I felt the power in my voice and was astonished that I had it in me. I knew I was the only way she’d get her salvation, and it made me feel powerful. Despite the fact that I could create a new enemy if I didn’t follow through in saving her in the time I was alloted, it didn’t matter; I still felt that superiority over her.

“It’s been so long. I just want to be with them again,” her voice echoed again when she spoke.

I looked into her eyes and scowled. I could see she felt torment and anguish, the same things I’d felt when she touched me the first time in our previous encounter, but the fact that she was trying to speak to me and draw this out made me loath her even more than I already did. The memories were imprinted within my mind. She’d already done her damage, leaving her mark on me. Something in me snapped, an action beyond my control; much like the dark emotions that were making me sick as I saw her sins right on her face.

In a flash before my eyes, I saw my hands grip her neck and squeeze. I felt her cold skin send chills through me, traveling through my nerves, a cold that matched the cold I felt in my heart. My breathing sped as I pulled her toward me, tightening my hold while choking her. A look of horror glazed her face, and her cold hands rose up, clutching mine, but the fight within her was only a fraction of my own. She was no match.

“How could you do that to them!” I screamed at her. “You don’t deserve to be set free,” I seethed through my teeth. “You deserve to stay with him forever, in this hell!”

She choked for air, trying to break free. I was rigid, never loosening my grip. It was so easy. I wasn’t sure of what the outcome would be. She was already dead, but I didn’t think about it. I knew what I was supposed to be doing, but I lost my way. On purpose. I thought about Luka and our “perspective” conversation. Had he just wasted his breath? It was clear that he had, but then I thought about Hayden, my angel. A split-second flash crossed my mind, and I saw his face; an expression of shock and disappointment.

Evika!” I heard his voice, a scolding tone. It made me jump. An array of emotions weaved through me then. I tried to find one that might make me do the right thing. “Let. Her. Go,” he said demandingly.

As if my idle hands had minds of their own, I felt myself having to use force to pry them off of her neck. Frustrated, I shoved her away and started to cry my angry tears.

Apathy. It was what I needed to overtake me. Not Sympathy for her. Apathy. I wanted to feel nothing. I wanted to be numb. I searched and searched for it, and it only masked the rage in me for a short while, long enough to become less of a threat to the wicked soul I had to save. My arms were at my sides, holding tight fists, my knuckles white. Sylvia stood still, terrified to move, holding her throat. I turned away from her.

“Evika,” Hayden’s voice was soft, “you can do this. Be her vessel and then come back to me. I’m here waiting.”

I wanted to be back in his arms again. I knew he was holding me, and I wanted my mind in the same place. I closed my eyes tight, wondering why my mind and heart felt like a war zone for good and evil, why my life was this canvas on which all the world painted its ugliness, and why I’d even been chosen as the Soldier of Light when I felt no such light within me. I screamed inside my head, tormented.

My head sank in defeat and fear. I didn’t want to look at her again because I knew the next time would be worse. I don’t know what I was waiting for. All I wanted to do was get it over with and be back with my angels again, but neither of us moved. She would have to wait. I wasn’t ready.

I breathed in and out slowly. I could hear the echoes of my breath as if I were inside of myself. I thought of the dragons on the sweatshirt from Luka. They were one, solid unit on the front, working as a team to make one symbol, a unit of harmony, yet on the back, they were separate and confronting one another, ready for battle. I tried to remember if either of them looked different from the other, but the dragons’ faces and bodies were the same. There was no difference. How were you supposed to tell which was the good one and which was the bad one? Or, was there a difference?

I shook my head, breaking my trance, and slowly raised my eyes to meet hers. I just wanted to be back with Hayden, whatever it took. “Take me to the moment of your death,” I said to her, quietly.

She was still standing there, unchanged from the last moment I’d glanced at her. I’d instilled so much fear in her that she was petrified. How awful was I? Had she really been that frightened of me?

She trembled as she spoke reluctantly. “Is it the light that you will take me to?”

Narrowing my eyes, I looked at her curiously. She asked me as if she wasn’t even sure who I was or the reason I was there, as if I was an untrustworthy opponent. Maybe she thought right.

“Yes,” I answered simply, with a whisper. “It’s what I’m supposed to do.” My disgusted tone couldn’t have been very convincing.

Her brown eyes blinked as she slowly raised her hand to mine and we touched. I felt a jolt of energy surge through me as we transcended. We were one, she and I. I had no control over the movements our body made. I felt a deep sadness. A deep regret. I lay on the stained, beige carpet in the middle of a bare living room, holding the empty, orange prescription bottle. A few pills lay scattered on the floor. I realized I’d entered her body after she’d already taken the amount that would kill her. A weakness hit me hard and then a dizziness made the room spin. The feeling of fear washed through me, just as it did in my First Death. A feeling of dread, solitude, and foremost, panic. I stared at the high, white ceiling, my vision becoming fuzzy. I closed my eyes and I had to work so hard to breath. It seemed as though there was a feeling of gravity sucking me back into the earth.

My helpless body was heavier by the second and everything started to shut down. The shallow breaths were the last I could hear as they echoed in my head. Only the thought of death, her thought of death.

I wondered if there really had been any pain that accompanied this type of demise. An overdose. I wondered if the reason I only felt the actions of the body and not the pain was because of Hayden; if he were really doing his part as he was meant to. After that thought occurred, I wondered if Sylvia felt any pain throughout her time in the dark realm. I had to admit, I was hoping she did. I lay there, hoping and wishing that the time she’d spent with Alysto had been the worst moments of her entire existence.

I then caught myself, loathing this woman more and more and despising the idea that I even had to let her move on. What was it that was making me so heartless...unmerciful...unforgiving? Where was this darkness coming from? Where had it been hiding? And more importantly, what was I becoming?

I feared for my own life then as I waited out the ending of hers.

The heartbeats were fewer and fewer, only five times....three times.....twice per minute, then none at all.

I was gone.

She was gone.

My eyes were shut and I kept them that way for what seemed like forever. I started to hear the changes in the sounds around me, the new scents of the room as I inhaled. An open window, framing the outside view of the world I knew, filled with the busy streets of Cleveland and the city air. Then I felt the hands of my angel, once again, embracing my body and caressing my face. I was home.

“Evika,” he whispered to me, “it’s over.”

I opened my eyes and looked up into my angel’s face; I clutched at him as if he’d disappear, and try as I may have, I couldn’t hold in those tears any longer.

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