Negative Zero (Book 1)

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Chapter 6: Let the Questions Begin

Chapter Six Let The Questions Begin

Before I knew it, Hayden scooped me up just as effortlessly as he had done earlier. My arms wrapped around his neck involuntarily, followed by my legs locking around his waist and my eyes closing tightly as I hid my face into the crook of his neck. I felt scared and rendered helpless.

I inhaled him, taking in the smell of rain, and felt a peace within me. What was it about him that made me feel so secure? He carried me down the metal stairs, back inside the apartment, and placed me on my bed, pulling the blankets over me. I wanted to ask him if we could just pack a few things and drive away on his Harley and start over. Start over? The intense situation was making me second-guess everything I’d ever known, everything I’d ever believed. It was also making me think stupid things like driving off on a motorcycle with some stranger I met in my dreams who’d somehow manifested into a reality claiming to be an angel.

What if I really was crazy? Even more believable, what if I was actually dead, and I’d created some sort of own hell for myself? Death was the one thing that scared me the most, even after experiencing it in so many ways throughout my life. Who’s to say your self doesn’t go on thinking after your body is gone? A trickery of the mind, is that what was going on?

It was dark, darker than I’ve ever remembered the night being, but I could still see him after he’d shut off all of the lights in every room. It was as if we were hiding from the rest of the world and had just shut down the small part in which we were.

I felt myself shivering. He dragged a chair to the side of the bed and pulled the covers over my body one more time before sitting down.

I clutched the comforter as if it would save me. “Why did you do that?” I whispered.

“Do what?” he whispered back.

“The lights. Why did you turn them off? Is that how we hide from them?”

Despite the darkness, my eyes adjusted. There was a bit of moonlight that shone in through my window. It was just enough that I could see the glow of his emerald eyes and the flash of his perfect, white teeth when he smiled widely at me before answering.

“No, Evika.” There was an amusement in his tone. “I just know that you like the lights off when you are scared.” He paused and cocked his head. “Kind of ironic since most people prefer the light instead.”

I was still shaking. “How do you even know this?”

“I told you. I’m your Guardian.”

“It still doesn’t answer my question.”

“It does if I tell you that, as your Guardian, I’ve known you your whole life.”

My breath hitched. “I don’t even know you,” I whispered a little louder.

“Doesn’t mean I don’t know you, Evika Jade Stormer.” He grinned deviously.

“Are you trying to distract me?”

“By doing what?”

“By making jokes. All you’re doing is pissing me off,” I huffed.

“I’m sorry,” he said insincerely.

“Are you?” I challenged. “I need answers. What do those things want with me? Why are they all hanging outside my apartment building? And why hasn’t anyone called the cops yet?” I was still whispering.

He leaned in closer. “Why are we whispering?” My lips pursed at his playfulness. Did he not take me seriously? He chuckled. “They are people, Evika. They want to be saved. They are hanging outside your apartment building because they know you’ve arrived and that you will be ready soon. And no one has called the police because no one but you or me can see them.” There was such certainty in his answers.

I sat up in the bed, pulling the comforter with me as I scooted and leaned against the wall. I kept my eyes on him with every move I made. I tried recalling most of what he’d told me so far. “What about that Drone thing? Didn’t anyone notice that?”

He shook his head. “Nope.”

The fact that no one around could even see or hear the nightmare that surrounded me immediately made me feel so segregated from reality, detached from the rest of the world. I was almost desperate to find something that would place me back in it. I looked at him inquisitively. “What about that weapon you had? Couldn’t anyone have heard that?”

“Oh, the hydro-gun?” He pulled the weapon from his jacket that was hanging over the back of the chair and held it out for me to see. “This thing has a silencer on it, and it’s completely harmless to humans anyway.”

I inspected the gun as he held it and was baffled as to how the thing could be silent, let alone harmless.

“Water bullets,” he stated.

“Huh?”

“Well, technically, the proper term is holy water bullets. HWB for short. They can’t kill the Drones, but they can harm them, slow them down. You’d need a lot more to kill them.” He gazed at my neck and looked at me apologetically. “Obviously, the harm wasn’t enough this time. I’m sorry.”

I was still stuck on the holy water thing. “Holy water....bullets?” I asked.

He laughed. “Yeah, you know, silver bullets for werewolves, wooden stakes for vampires, and holy water for demons. That whole concept. The bullets are specially designed for the Drones because they’re usually the primary nuisance to our mission. The bullets are pure water and cased in a thick wax that dissolves after they hit the target so there is no trace of evidence, even if someone happens to hear one go off. The impact isn’t much unless you are really close to the target, which is something I never plan on either of us being again. The Drones may be nomadic, but they are fierce. It’s best to steer clear of them. Normally, nightfall is when they like to come out.”

I stared at him, speechless; something I felt I’d be doing a lot of from then on.

“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.” He put the gun back in his coat. “No pun intended.”

I looked at him with disbelief. “What am I supposed to look like?”

His expression softened. “I’m sorry. I need to realize that everything is all new to you.”

I let the last parts of the conversation sink in, and he was kind enough not to overwhelm me with more information yet. It was eerily quiet between us for a few minutes. It didn’t make me uncomfortable, but it bothered me in that I felt like I was going to break into a panic if I didn’t get some sort of background noise. The silence was almost deafening.

I looked at him, pleadingly. “Can you please put some music on?” Curled up in bed against the wall, I didn’t want to budge from my position.

Hayden smiled at me solemnly and rose to walk over to my stereo. “What CD did you want to hear?”

“Actually, none of them,” I blurted. “Could you just put the radio on? Like 100.7 or something?”

He found the station, played the music at a low volume, and came back to his seat next to the bed. I took a slow, deep breath of relief as comfort set in. He looked at me curiously, but I could also sense a bit of concern in his expression.

“I just need to know that the rest of the world is out there right now. The radio will help as proof,” I told him. “I hope.”

“I promise you, Evika. The world is just the same as it was this morning, a week ago, a year ago. Just the same as it was before you were born and just like it was ages ago. You may be experiencing a change, but I can assure you the world keeps turning as it always has without notice to this change.”

I looked at him blankly. Silent. Absolutely and utterly speechless again. He seemed to know the right things to say when I needed to hear them, and the calm I felt around him fascinated me even more.

His eyes widened for a moment, as if just remembering something. “Oh!” He quickly jumped to his feet and went to my kitchen. I heard clanking from the cupboards, then water from the faucet and watched him come back to his chair. He handed me the glass.

I reluctantly took it from his hand and looked at him questioningly.

He shrugged. “It’s only water. I kinda forgot about the shock thing with you humans. Drink up.”

I looked at the glass of water I held and then back to him.

He let out a heavy sigh. “It’s just water, I promise. Please drink.”

I tilted the glass slowly and sipped. The coldness of the water awakened my throat. You humans. His words echoed in my head as I swallowed. Even though I still wanted to be cautious in trusting him so quickly, I couldn’t bring myself to feel threatened. I sensed dangers around me, but Hayden was not one of them. It was as if my heart knew him before I did: the one who’d so abruptly entered into my world, my real world.

I narrowed my eyes - I always did that when I was thinking hard about something - as I looked him over. “So, you’re um....an angel?”

“Yes,” he confirmed.

“And my dreams? That was you?”

“One hundred percent.”

“And when I fell, the pain evaded, that was you?”

He nodded. “And that light you saw, that was me. I also pulled you away for a while so your body could heal. Rather quickly, I might add,” he said smugly.

“Was that you, too?” I asked.

“It’s actually something you are capable of now on your own.”

“Healing?”

“A bit faster than normal, yes.”

I thought for a moment, mentally noting that I would need to ask more about that. But as I was recalling the events as I remembered them, I didn’t want to lose my train of thought. “And were you the one who mysteriously paid up my rent?”

“Undoubtedly,” he flashed his perfect teeth.

I raised an eyebrow. Hmm. So angels had money. I’d get back to that later as well. I continued with my questions. “You said you’ve known me all my life. What does that mean, exactly?”

“It means just that; I’ve known you your whole life. I’ve been there for every moment. Guarding you. Protecting you. That’s my job. My reason for existing, if you will.”

I was unresponsive, staring at him incredulously.

He narrowed his eyes, reading my expression. “You don’t quite believe me, do you?” His brow cocked. “Or is it that you don’t want to believe me?”

Although I felt certain he was telling me the truth, I couldn’t wrap my mind around his words. Every moment. Could that be true? Was that even likely?

“Could you prove it?” Those were the words that slipped from my tongue. I’d instantly feared that I’d offended him, but felt relief as I watched his right lip slowly curl into a confident smirk.

“Okay,” he said. He leaned back in the chair, stretched out his legs, crossed them at the ankles, then started ticking things off on each of his fingers. “When you were little, you used to think Pepto Bismol was called Pepto Gizmo, and it was some sort of remedy to keep away gremlins. At the age of eight, you were skateboarding with your neighbor, Nick. You fell off of the ramp and sprained your left wrist. In order to keep it from your mother, you taught yourself how to write right-handed until it healed.” He paused for a moment to give me a disapproving look. “That’s why you can honestly state that you are ambidextrous.” I had no argument in me.

My mouth was agape as I listened to him continue. “At the age of ten, you caught a butterfly with your bare hands in the back yard – it was blue and orange – and just before you planned on letting it go, you examined it and accidentally destroyed its wing, essentially killing the creature. You felt so terrible about it that you went to your room and wrote about it, a poem titled Chasing Butterflies. It was the first poem you ever wrote. Interesting facts? You hate sweat pants that cuff around the ankle because you think they are too restricting, and you don’t like the waffles they leave on your skin.” He air-quoted waffles. “You feel safest at night, when the lights are off. Chocolate-covered fruit repulses you. You can’t sleep without music. You don’t use umbrellas because you love the rain so much.” He paused again, slowly leaning forward with an intense stare, locking his eyes with mine. I thought he was done. I’d honestly been completely convinced after the first tick of his finger, but he seemed to have one more fact he wanted to share with me to prove himself. “After your mother passed away, you wrote a song for her on the piano. No words. Just music. You’d written it for her funeral, but you never played it. Not for anyone.”

My breath hitched, and my voice came out so small. “You can’t possibly know that. I never ---” I paused when the pain hit. “Not...not even for Joel.”

“I was there,” he whispered distantly. “Every moment.”

Feeling naked, vulnerable, I stopped breathing for a moment. I looked away from him, almost hating him for knowing the things he knew, hating that every, damn thing he told me was true. But along with that, I also felt a comfort. The conflicting feelings just made me more confused. Every moment, I thought. I did believe him. And I felt like he would be able to answer the things I wanted to know the most.

“Then you’d be able to recall any moment? Any moment at all?” I asked him.

“Absolutely.” He leaned back again and folded his arms with a look of confidence. “And I’m up for that challenge.”

I thought about that chilly, fall night as I drove to the house. I was a stupid, eighteen-year-old girl dating a twenty-two year old, alcoholic idiot who still lived in his parents’ basement. I’d been with him for four months, and he’d been pressuring me those whole four months, in their entirety, when I just wasn’t ready. Something about him lured me in. Maybe it was the fact that I was depressed and wanted to be a bit reckless in life after having lost so much.

Little did I know, that night he’d made sure no one was home. He said to drive on over and we’d watch a new release and just chill at his house and drink. I let myself in through the unlocked side door as he’d instructed and made my way downstairs to his room calling his name multiple times, but getting no response. As soon as I walked through his bedroom door far enough, it slammed shut behind me and I felt the tight grip of his hands - one around my waist and the other over my mouth - forcing my body onto his bed. Despite his drunken state, he was still stronger and faster than me. He used his entire body weight to sink mine into the mattress, still pressing his hand over my mouth. My muffled screams and thrashing arms were futile. The smell of his whiskey-breath and the glossy look in his eye gave me my first real look at who he truly was; he was no good for me, and I was beyond insane for ever dating him. His knees slid up my inner thighs, forcing my legs to spread and the moment he took his arm away as a vice in order to start unbuttoning my jeans, I knew it was my only chance. My arm closest to the nightstand reached out and grabbed the 5 x 7 metal picture frame that held the photo of his three-year-old son, the son who’d been kept out of his custody for over two years. I viced the frame as tightly as I could and brought it straight to the side of his skull, shattering the glass and earning his release. His hands went to his head with a scream of pain as he rolled off the side of the bed, making a loud thud as he hit the hardwood floor. I scurried off the bed and leaped past him, grabbing my keys from the floor and swinging the door open in desperation. I took two steps at a time to the first floor and darted out of his house to my car. I could hear him yelling as he stumbled out of the house with his keys, blood covering the left side of his face, throwing himself into his F-250 and recklessly peeling out of the driveway. I was shaking violently, trying to hold the key steady enough to unlock the car door. I’d just gotten the key in when I watched him turn his truck at the end of the residential street and come barreling back down my way, aiming right for me as I lunged into my car. The lunatic spun his front wheels out right before missing me and ran into the telephone pole. I sped off in a panic, not even caring to see the aftermath.

I glanced at the angel, eager for his enlightenment. “Clyde,” was all I said.

I watched Hayden’s expression turn unfavorable. His eyes glared. “Ah, yes, the infamous, whiskey-drinking ex-boyfriend with the red truck.”

His last words shocked me in that he was so exact. “Yes, that’s him,” I said. His tightened face remain unchanged. “His truck swerved right before it was about to hit me.” I wanted to hear him say that Clyde wasn’t really going to do it, that he wasn’t really going to run me over. I wanted to hear him say that Clyde was only trying to scare me - just bluffing. I wanted to know he was still a good person and swerved on purpose, but I think I always knew the real answer.

Hayden sighed. “Of all subjects to test me on, this is the one you decide to bring up?”

“What’s wrong with this subject?”

“Him.”

I looked at him, pleadingly. “It’s important for me to hear this. From you.”

“I know where this is going, and I don’t think you want to know the truth, Evika.”

I looked at him curiously and realized what he meant. “Then he was really going to do it? You made the truck turn into that pole?”

“I never touched the wheel.”

“What did you do?” I pressed.

He looked at me solemnly. “I’m sorry, Evika. I waited for him to change his mind, but he didn’t. I had to do something drastic to save you. A bright light blinded him for a split second, scared him right into turning that wheel.”

“A bright light.”

“Me.”

“I didn’t see it.”

“I didn’t let you.”

The reality sank in. “Oh my gosh. His truck was totaled after that. He was in the hospital for days with a concussion. He got his license taken away. His parents kicked him out. He---”

“Wait, time out for a second,” Hayden interrupted my rant. “Please, do not tell me that you’re getting upset with me for all of that.”

I gasped. “No!” I panicked as I searched for the right words. “I just....” I paused as it became clear to me that things could have been completely different that night. I looked down. “That could have been me. The end of me.”

We sat there, silent, for a few moments.

“But, it wasn’t.” He shrugged. “Technically, I was crossing the line of free will, and it could have been the end of me.” There was a long, awkward pause before he continued. “You should really try to drink that up, Evika.” He nodded to the glass in my hands. I could tell he was hoping that the subject was over.

I brought the glass to my lips and drank the rest of the cold water, setting it on the nightstand once it was empty. I glanced at the clock to see that it was almost midnight. He must have known I checked the time.

“I think you need your rest for now. We can talk about all of this in the morning.” He started to get up, and a feeling of dread washed over me as I thought of his leaving me, leaving the apartment, even just leaving the room.

“No, please! Don’t go!” In a sudden panic, I grabbed his arm in desperation. “I-I need to know what I am. I want to know everything that you can tell me. I don’t care if it takes all night. Just don’t leave. Please?” I stared at him anxiously, as if he were my one, infallible remedy to the mystery of this new, second life.

He glanced down at my hands that gripped on his arm, and I blushed, sliding them back into my lap. Why was I so desperate? What was it about this guy that was altering every moral I had in place? Joel would have killed me. Well, first he would scream at the top of his girlie lungs; then he would kill me.

Hayden smiled at me solemnly. “Evika, I’m not going anywhere.” I gazed into his green, moonlit eyes. I believed him. I don’t know why, but I did. “Are you sure you want to hear the whole story now? Because this will take all night.” He waited for my answer.

“Yes,” I said with certainty. “Please tell me what I am and what all of this means. I don’t like mystery, and I don’t like being in the dark. Please.”

Hayden looked over at my empty glass and sighed out his answer. “I think we are going to need a bigger glass.”

He scooped up the glass and went into the kitchen. After a few moments, he came back in with a large beer mug full of ice water. “That should do it,” he said as he placed the mug on the nightstand and sat back down.

I looked at the mug. “Should I be worried?”

One corner of his mouth lifted. “There is a lot to take in. You just listen, and I’ll answer whatever questions you have along the way, okay?”

Inhaling and exhaling a controlled breath, I nodded as I braced myself. “Okay.”

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