Negative Zero (Book 1)

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Chapter 8: Tandem

Chapter Eight Tandem

I took a long, hot shower late in the morning. I needed to clear my head and try to focus on what the past few days meant for me. Looking at myself in the mirror, I observed the bruises on my head and arms from the fall. I looked like a stranger to myself. Worn out. Aged. Could a couple of days of post-traumatic stress really do that to a person? Then I remembered all the crying I’d done, and the stress along with it that probably didn’t make things any better for the bags under my eyes. A good night’s sleep was something for which I ached.

I towel dried my hair a bit more and put it in a simple pony tail, threw on some jeans and a gray Nirvana t-shirt, then peaked out into the kitchen. Hayden was sitting at the table reading The Plain Dealer and drinking strong coffee. I could smell the scent of coffee beans through the hall.

He shook his head at the article. “Damn, not another one.”

“Another what?” I presented myself. His head popped up.

“Oh, just another sad story about a mother killing her kids and then herself. It just irritates me to read these things.”

“And that’s exactly why I don’t get the paper. I can’t stand the news. Nothing but depressing crap. Where did you get that one?”

He nodded toward the window. “When you were showering, I went and grabbed one at the Starbucks down the block. Here,” he lifted another cup from the counter, “I got you a venti mocha with extra whipped cream if you want it.” He folded the newspaper and tossed it on the counter.

I smiled at him and made my way to the kitchen. “I love these. Thank you.” I took a massive gulp of my mocha. The temperature was just right. It was nice to taste one again. I’d cut them out of the budget after Joel left since I had to save every penny.

It was quiet in the room for a few minutes; neither of us made a sound. Hayden had a solemn expression on his face before speaking.

“So, there is one part of that story I told you last night that I’m surprised you didn’t bring up in your many questions,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“The part about Nora not being your biological mother.” It stung when he brought it up. “Does it bother you?” he inquired.

I looked away from him for a brief moment, assessing my feelings on the matter. I imagined Hayden might have been worried about my reaction to knowing the truth about my mother and that revealed secret. I waited for the reality of his words to sink in and finally had my answer. “She was and is still my mother. No matter what. I still love her the same way.” And that was the truth. “Nothing can change that.”

He smiled at me. “I’m glad you are okay with it. I worried a little about how you would feel.”

I gave him a serious look, but couldn’t stop the grin from forming. “I guess I’m proving to you that I can handle a little truth. You’ve thrown a lot at me in the past twenty-four hours. Guess I’m doing okay.” I let out a light laugh. To be honest, I surprised myself with all the truth I was handling.

I studied Hayden’s expression. His emerald eyes made their way to mine. I could tell there was yet another agenda behind them, and I was just waiting for him to spit it out. I braced myself for more details on zombies, dead things, gargoyle-like demons who were trying to kill me. You know, the normal stuff that was to become my new life.

“You do know that everything is tandem from now on, don’t you?” he asked me.

I looked at him, incredulously. “Tandem?”

“Yeah, you know. I-go-where-you-go kind of thing. You fall, I fall.”

“Everything we do? Like even when I have to go to a public bathroom?” I raised my voice in shock.

Hayden belted out with a booming laugh. “Jeez, you would think that way, wouldn’t you? Evika, aside from the act of disposing of our bodily waste, we are together and it must stay that way. I mean, I know there will be time you may want to spend with your friends, and I’ll gladly keep my distance, but I’ll always be near.” He paused for a moment. “Of course, I highly doubt you’ll ever want to go anywhere without me anyway,” he said smugly.

I bulked at his explanation. “What is that supposed to mean?” I wasn’t sure if his comment was meant as a comfort or a mild threat, but after reading his expression, it showed me that he was trying to put some humor into the situation, which just made me start laughing.

He tried to look at me sternly, but couldn’t hide that grin. “Evika, this is no laughing matter. When I say tandem, I mean tandem.”

“Okay, okay. Basically, you mean that you need to know where my ass is at all times or be with me at all times. Am I right?” The subject matter was starting to become beyond comical; however, there was an edge to the conversation that was leading me to believe it wasn’t going to be the last time we’d speak of this new tandem thing.

“Hey, whether you want to admit it or not, I’m pretty important to you. And like I said, I highly doubt you’ll ever want to go anywhere without me anyway.” He gave me a huge, cheesy smile, and his eyes sparkled.

I shook my head. “You are just so full of yourself. It absolutely fascinates me,” I said to him, topping it off with my famous eye-roll. I’ll admit, he was starting to grow on me. Of course, I never would have let it on. Why make it easy for him?

“Speaking of fascinating, I do have something else of which to inform you.” He grabbed some folded papers from the inside pocket of his jacket. My curiosity peaked, as usual.

“Great, now what? A contract?”

He smirked and shook his head. “No, but that’s not a bad idea.” I pursed my lips at him. “Kidding. This is something important though, and since we are somewhat on the subject of togetherness, it’s a good time to bring this up to you. Plus, you seem to be in a good mood.”

“So spit it out, Hayden,” I said impatiently.

He raised his brow at my sharpness. “Hey, it can wait if you’re going to act like that,” he said. I rolled my eyes. “In this new life, it’s much easier if you don’t have to work, so there is an account that has been passed down to you from your father.”

I didn’t have to return to work until the following Wednesday. It would be a difficult task to juggle a full time job along with my new calling in life. “Account? Like, a bank account?”

He nodded.

“Enough to quit my job?”

He nodded again.

“Enough that I’ll never have to work again?”

“Absolutely,” he confirmed.

I held out my hand for the papers. “How much are we talking here?”

“You may need to sit down.”

I obliged to his comment and sat down with my mocha. “Okay. I’m sitting.”

“Don’t spill your coffee.” He handed me the folded papers. “This statement is from a few months ago when I had them print a summary for us.”

“Us,” I said, looking at him with narrow eyes. I had a feeling I knew what that meant.

I slowly unfolded the contents. The first page was a plethora of information. As I scrolled through the pages, my eyes widened after seeing the figures of the account. I gasped, blinking my eyes and staring at the page again.

“Um, that’s got to be a typo,” I said in disbelief.

Hayden just looked at me, attempting to hold in a laugh and failing miserably. “Nope, I checked the figures and ran through it all before leaving the bank. That is all correct information.”

“You mean to tell me I have twenty-seven million dollars in my name? Me?”

Hayden sauntered to my side of the counter and leaned to look over my shoulder. “Well, if you’re Evika Jade Stormer,” he slid his finger down to my name on the first page. “Ah yes, that’s it right there. Evika Ja---”

“I see it!” I shrilled, irritated that he spoke so condescendingly. “Hayden, what the hell? You have got to be joking. There is no way this is possible.” I didn’t believe it. Don’t get me wrong, I did want to believe what I was seeing, but I didn’t want to be some butt of a joke either. I’d already had plenty thrown at me that was unbelievable enough, but something working in my favor seemed implausible, so I didn’t want to get hung up on it if it wasn’t real.

“It’s true,” he simply said.

“No way,” I argued.

“What, do you need to take a ride to the bank and have them tell you?”

I nodded, slowly, still staring at the pages. “I think so.”

“I can’t believe this,” he chortled. “You still don’t trust me yet?”

“I have no idea what I believe right now,” I said, still staring down at the statement. I looked up at him. He sighed heavily, shaking his head and giving me that smirk of his. He knew exactly what I wanted to do.

“Come on.” He sounded defeated. “We’ll take a ride down to the bank.”

I jumped up, giving him my most radiant smile. “Great idea. I’ll get my jacket.” I folded up the papers and placed them neatly in my purse after harnessing the strap across my torso.

Hayden insisted on taking my car and driving us there himself. You would have thought he was almost trying to piss me off by driving slower than normal. I couldn’t help but regret that I wasn’t in the driver’s seat, but then again, I hated driving downtown when I didn’t know where I was going.

We entered Nations Bank, a place in which I had yet to set foot, and it seemed that one of us had already been deemed a familiar face.

“Ah, Mr. Crow, how are you today?” a short and plump man in a charcoal suit greeted as he came from around the corner hurriedly while carrying a manila folder.

“Mr. Crow?” I whispered to Hayden. He winked at me and placed his hand on the small of my back.

“Hello, Davis. I’m well. I’ve brought Jack Stormer’s daughter, Evika, with me.” His voice lowered. “She’s somewhat in awe and needs more details on our account.”

There he goes again with the “our” and “us” thing, I thought. I was so lost about what that really meant.

“Miss Stormer, how wonderful to finally meet you,” Davis extended his arm for a handshake.

“Uh, hello,” I said, forcing a smile.

“So, Mr. Crow, you must have told her the good news, I presume?” His brow lifted.

“Yes sir, but a trip to the bank was necessary for her.” Hayden smiled. “She is sort of in disbelief.”

“Well, of course.” Davis turned to me. “Miss Stormer, I have no doubt it is hard to believe, and I can give you all of the information you need. If you both will excuse me for just a few minutes, I’m just about wrapped up with a client in my office, and then I’ll be right with you.”

“Certainly,” Hayden answered. “Take your time.”

Davis walked off with his manila folder as Hayden and I took a seat in the lobby.

I slid my hand along the black leather arm of the couch. Real leather. “Whatever happened to going up to a teller, handing them I.D. and making a transaction?”

Hayden’s lips curled into a devious grin. “It’s private banking. Different ball game. Royal treatment.”

“I see that. It’s weird.”

“Get used to it.”

I grabbed the top magazine sitting in the neatly piled stack on the lobby table - Bloomsberg Businessweek – and thumbed through the pages, just staring at pictures for the next few minutes.

“Okay,” Davis walked out to greet us. “Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Crow, Miss Stormer. Please follow me.” We walked back to his office around the corner, one wall entirely made of windows. “Please,” he gestured with a wave of his hand to a pair of leather guest seats in front of his desk, “have a seat. May I get you both some coffee? Perhaps some bottled water?”

Perhaps a warm towelette or mint on your pillow? “I’m fine, thank you,” I said as I sat down.

“No, thank you,” Hayden replied.

We were all finally seated.

“Miss Stormer---” Davis started.

“Please,” I cut him off, “call me Evika.” I smiled, assuringly. I really hated the formalities.

He smiled back. “Evika, I remember working with your father many years ago to secure this account for you. It was an absolute pleasure to work with him. We discussed the best options. The bulk of it is held in a CD and is locked at an interest rate of about five percent, but the lead account is enough to live off of and the sister account is the one meant for purchases.”

I stared blankly. “So how does this work, exactly? Do I get a debit card or something?”

Davis glanced at Hayden for a moment, then back to me. “Well, Evika, yes. There are writable checks and a set of debit-credit cards. Mr. Crow is the custodian on the account, so there is a limited amount that can be taken out within a monthly period unless he signs consent for a higher transfer. A sister account has been set up to deposit the limited amounts. An allowance, if you will.”

“Wait a minute,” I held up my hand. I needed a breather. “I’m sorry, you said Hayden is the what?”

He looked at me questioningly, as if he’d expected me to know this little tidbit. From the corner of my eye, I could see Hayden adjusting confidently in his chair.

“Well, I have the information here in the file. I will print the account summary out for your records. Mr. Crow is the custodian of this account, and you are the beneficiary.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Meaning?” I knew damn well what it meant.

“Meaning,” Hayden cut in, “I have to sign anything above a certain figure. The limit is set to five grand per month. That is the increment that you can access on your own through the sister account, but for anything from the lead account, you’ll need my presence or my signature.” He glanced at me as my eyes wandered over to his.

I couldn’t believe it.

“Precisely,” Davis concurred. “Evika, Mr. Crow has already been provided with a set of the debit cards, and there is already five thousand in the account at this time. You are welcome to transfer more into the sister account at this time if you like, since Mr. Crow is present. The checks, access phone codes, and other things have been provided to Mr. Crow to give to you. And, rest assured, these accounts are highly secured at this bank.”

“Interesting,” I said in a way to show I was being polite to Davis, but a tone in which Hayden would know I was far from pleased. I flexed my jaw.

“Now, is there anything I can do for you at this time? I’m assuming you’d like another statement? A more updated figure, of course. Miss Murphy said you were here recently?”

“Yes, please. An update on the balance would be great.” Hayden said while giving me a look of disapproval.

I became self-aware and realized my lips were pursed, and if my eyebrows furrowed any lower, you would have had to send me in for a face lift.

“If you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to print this off on one of the other office printers. Mine seems to have gotten jammed,” Davis politely excused himself.

“Please, take your time,” Hayden said as Davis left the room. He turned to me. “Wow, what’s with the look?” he asked me, lightly sputtering a laugh.

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me. My dad sets up an account for me, and you control the money? Are you freaking serious?” I was starting to fume as the idea sunk in.

Hayden shook his head, “Evika, it’s not---”

“Okay, folks! Here is this month’s profits and breakdowns.” Davis sat back down again and set the papers down at the front of his desk. I assumed it was because he wasn’t sure who to give them to at that point. I reached up for them, anticipating having to beat Hayden to them, but he didn’t budge. I felt a little better about that, snatching them eagerly.

“Thank you,” I said. I gave a quick look at the statement, showing a balance even higher than the one I’d seen that morning.

“Please Evika, Mr. Crow, do not hesitate to contact me at the number I’ve provided to you, should you need anything further until we meet again. The rest of the staff here at Nation’s is more than happy to assist you as well.” He stood to shake our hands.

“Absolutely, Davis. Thank you for your help.”

“Ms. Stormer,” he gently took my hand, “a pleasure.”

“Thank you, Davis,” I said as he walked us out as if we were guests at his home.

I maintained my composure as Hayden and I walked out of the lobby and out the door, but by the time we hit the sidewalk to walk back to the parking lot down the block, I saw red.

Hayden lightly squeezed my arm and leaned in before I could say anything. “Please. Let’s just get to the car before you get the whole city to stare at us. You can blow up at me then.”

I glared at him, but he was right. Would I really want every stranger walking the streets to know that I was a millionaire? Oh wait, that we were millionaires? That I had a monthly allowance and that an angel with a fictitious last name was the custodian of the account? I whipped my arm away from his grip. He let out a quiet laugh. Ugh! I could hardly keep my mouth shut. I felt small, belittled, blind-sighted, and just plain in the dark over the whole thing.

“Great,” Hayden said to himself as he held out his hand for a raindrop. “Just in time.” He unlocked my side of the car, and I shoved myself in, folding my arms tightly across my chest.

I saw his door open and didn’t even wait for him to get in and shut the door before I unloaded.

“I can’t believe this! My dad leaves me an account, and your ass, which isn’t even human by the way, appoints itself the custodian of my account? What kind of bullshit is that? I’m sorry, am I five?

I sure as hell don’t think so. Who’s brilliant idea was this anyway? Lightbulb! Let’s make Mr. Fake-Last-Name with a fake social security number and fake existence watch over this poor girl, and hey, while we’re at it, we’ll let him have control of the twenty-seven million dollars and give her an allowance! Brilliant! Just---”

“Are you done yet? Because I have some explaining to do if you’d let me into this conversation sometime soon...?” He looked at me with his eyebrows raised.

“Ugh!” I let out a frustrated grunt. “Talk!”

“Evika, the brilliant idea came from your father. He knew you’d still be young. Can you honestly tell me that you weren’t fantasizing about all the great things you wanted to do with that money when I first handed you that statement at home? There needs to be some control here, and you haven’t exactly demonstrated that kind of behavior.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh, come on!”

He gave me one of those “are you serious” expressions. Okay, so there really was no good reason why he would be deemed less responsible than I was. Still. I found the arrangement absolutely asinine.

“So, if my dad had all this money stuffed away into some account, then why didn’t I know about it before? Why didn’t my mother know about it?”

“Your mother did know about it, but she knew it was for you and should only be used when you started leading this new life. Your father had a separate account for her that helped you guys out during all those years, but nothing like this account.”

“But my dad had to have set this up for me before he died, so if he gave me to my mother, er, my aunt to raise me, then why wouldn’t he have just appointed her the custodian of this massive account?” I glared. I thought I had him then. There was no possible way he’d get out of that question. There was no good reason for it. I had to find a flaw in this somehow. There was no way Hayden should have been in control of the money.

Hayden closed his eyes and laid his head back against the seat. I’d only known him for a few days, but already I was beginning to know how to read his body language. This next part was going to be something he didn’t want to say, but had to.

“Evika,” he looked at me solemnly, “your father didn’t put the lead account into your mother’s name because he knew something was going to happen to her.” He stopped and watched my face. A sick feeling washed through me, and the memories of that day came flooding back. I could see in his eyes that he saw the hurt flash across my face.

“What do you mean, he already knew?” I finally asked.

“Jack knew Nora was going to die, but he didn’t want you with anyone else. He trusted her, and only her, until I would come into the picture. He knew that you were going to Cross a few years after her death. Evika, he saw these things when you were born. He knew you were born a half-life. He knew he would have to give up his own life to save yours, and he knew that something would happen to Nora. That was his gift. Premonitions.”

I tasted the salt in my mouth as I listened to him. I just stared out the window, hating the things I was hearing. Hating knowing that my father knew my mother was going to die, but never did anything about it when he had the power to save her long before it would ever happen. He’d even died for me way before he had to. I could have had all of that time with my father, and he’d still chosen to save me years before it was necessary.

“If he could see things before they happened, then why the hell didn’t he hold off and just raise me with my mother and change the way things turned out? Why would he just throw it all away like that before saving me when he could have had more time? More time with me?

“No, Evika, that’s just it. He-He didn’t.” He hesitated with what to say next. “There was no time. They were already after you.”

“Who? What do you mean?”

“It’s not important right now. You’ve been through enough for one day. I’m not getting into that story right now.”

“Hayden, I want to know. What was after me?” I demanded.

“Evika, we need to save this conversation for another time. We need to sit down and discuss our future, not the past. The past isn’t important at this particular time. It will be, but not right now.”

“But, Hay---”

“I said another time, Evika.” His voice boomed throughout the car walls. “Let it go.”

I relented, folding my arms again and staring out the window. I focused on the specks of rain that slowly cascaded down past the rubber strip in the door. I was even more frustrated than I had been before leaving the bank.

His voice softened with his next words. “Your father made some mistakes, but he did what he could to fix them.” He paused briefly. I then heard his faint sigh and could have sworn it contained a tad of guilt. “It’s a subject for another time. Please, just respect that.”

Despite the quiet sound of the falling rain, the dead silence in the car was penetrating, and the last thing I wanted to do was sit there any longer in that car.

“Whatever,” I broke the air, “I’m hungry, so I’m gonna go use my fancy debit slash credit card at Tilted Kilt.” Before hopping out of the car, I composed myself before speaking through my teeth. “I’m assuming tandem applies, so I’ll grab a table for two.”

I got out of the car and felt the rain hit my hair instantly, and then start to weigh me down as it accumulated. I kept my stride at a good pace down the couple of blocks, but I never broke into a run. As much as I wanted a beer before ordering my food, I enjoyed the rain even more. I observed the passers-by, some walking along with their black umbrellas, and others huddled underneath some of the construction overhangs. I was glad to be walking alone. I needed my space at the moment, and Hayden was learning fast that he’d need to give that to me. I’m sure it was killing him to have to deal with my antics, but honestly, considering the circumstances, I was doing fairly well in handling what had been thrown at me in those past few days. However, he’d known me all my life anyway, so he could be the judge of that one.

I finally reached the bar and picked a table, ordering myself an Eliot Ness bottle. I wasn’t in the mood for a Guinness. I asked for two menus and by the time they gave me my beer, Hayden walked in through the door, swinging it open and finding me with his eyes immediately. Pieces of his short, wet hair straggled across his face just like in my first dream of him. His black t-shirt was stuck to his body, coating him tightly like a shiny, charcoal-colored paint. I couldn’t take my eyes from him as he started toward me, but I kept reminding myself I was still livid.

The overhead music started playing a new song, “My Stupid Mouth.” I died laughing inside. I wondered if the song was directed toward me or Hayden? Which one of us was at fault for the previous conversation going off-kilter?

“So, did you get me one of those, too?” He smiled at me while taking a seat. God, his chest was flawless in that shirt.

“What, a beer?” I huffed. “Are you serious?”

“Yes, Evika. A beer.”

“No, I figured you’d want to keep what’s left of your holiness...holy.”

He sighed. “A beer won’t kill me.” His slight irritation did not go unnoticed by me.

“Really? So, what will?” Ugh. I really didn’t mean it as harshly as it sounded, but I just had no control. My damn mouth. My stupid, stupid mouth. I knew who the song was meant for.

He rolled his eyes at me and flagged down the waitress. She came over, and he ordered a Coors Light on draft and the fried ravioli appetizer, but said he was still scoping the menu for his meal. Hayden waited for the waitress to step away before looking at me again. When our eyes met, I could still see irritation behind his.

“Do you happen to have a switch up there that tells you that maybe the thing you are about to say is just a little too much?” he challenged.

I shrugged it off. “Never noticed.” I took a swig of my beer. “But you, on the other hand, are a different story. You seem to have that red-alert button that stops you from saying things to someone when they really need to hear them. Is this an acquired skill?”

“I thought we were over this for today,” he said quietly.

“I thought you knew me better than that. It takes a little more than a walk in the rain to cool me off after finding out there are more secrets my Guardian Angel is keeping from me.”

“Here are some of the house breadsticks,” our waitress approached, “and your drinks. Have you decided on your orders?”

“Sure,” I perked, glad to have had the last word before the change in subject. “May I please have the cheeseburger with a side of onion rings? Double the cheese. Well done.”

“Absolutely.” She smiled. “And for you, sir?”

Hayden folded the menu closed. “You know, if you could just bring me an order of your fish and chips with a side of tarter that would be great.”

“Sure thing. I’ll have your orders out soon.” Then she walked off.

“Not soon enough,” I muttered in a sardonic tone as I started tearing into a breadstick and slumped further into the seat.

Hayden dropped his shoulders and let out a heavy sigh. “Evika, I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what? Ordering fish and chips?” I asked pointedly.
He shook his head. “You know what I mean, Evika.”

“No, not really, Hayden. What exactly are you sorry for?” I was starting to get loud. “Because I have an entire list of things that I deserve apologies for and the people from whom I should hear them.”

He leaned into the table and spoke through his teeth to me. “Evika, this is neither the time or place for this. You are acting like a child.” His emphasis on the word “child” really got me revved up.

I finished chewing my bite of bread, glaring at him all the while before I swallowed. “Oh yeah? Then quit treating me like one, Hayden. Maybe that’ll do the trick.”

His eyes narrowed. “You are so frustrating and stubborn. Do you know this?”

“Well, you’re complicated and overbearing,” I retorted. “And cryptic! And you frustrate the hell out of me.”

He leaned in a bit further and cocked his head. “If you followed the rules and did what I asked of you, I probably wouldn’t have to be.” He glared back at me.

“Oh, sure. Blame me for your issues.”

“Evika, right now...you are my issue. And you want to talk about your frustrations with me? Try being me right now, dealing with you.”

Ouch. I rolled my eyes and looked down at my plate holding the other half of the breadstick. “Ugh. I’m not hungry anymore.” I pushed the plate away.

“Suit yourself,” he shrugged as he started buttering some bread of his own. I watched him for a moment. He was just taking his time, avoiding eye contact but smirking all the while. His actions further annoyed me.

“What, you’re not going to make me finish my meal?” I said, my tone dripping with sarcasm.

“You’re only embarrassing yourself, Evika.”

I let out a quiet “humph” as I tightened my already-folded arms. I thought about what to do next. He was clearly not going to give in to my antics. I knew I was frustrating and stubborn, but I wasn’t about to admit that he was right. Not in a million years. I felt defeated and didn’t feel like listening to him chew.

“I’m gonna go sit in the car. I’ve lost my appetite.” I stood to leave.

“Go ahead,” he said between bites, still relaxed. “I’ll meet you there.”

I held my hand out for the keys, and he willingly placed them in my palm.

I was only about three steps away when he decided to add one more remark. “And Evika,” I stopped mid-step to listen. “No tricks,” he said sternly.

I turned and shot him a look, trying to read the severity in his eyes. His expression was unchanged since I’d left the table. I almost despised the fact that he thought I had any options in the matter. Did he think I would run? Even more, run and hide from him? He was all I had. As sad and desperate as that sounded, it was the truth; he was all I had. I wondered if he even saw things the same way I did. All I could do was sigh, look away and hang my head in defeat. “Where the hell would I even go now, Hayden?” I muttered, then turned and left the restaurant.

I sat in the passenger’s seat, reclining so I could just stare at the roof of the car. I caught a glimpse of the angel clip on the other visor from Ms. Makerov. The thought of her made me smile. Then I read the inscription out loud. “Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly.” I laughed to myself. I thought of Hayden in the restaurant, probably still eating, probably planning on taking his good ol’ time, savoring every bite so I had to wait, knowing well that I wouldn’t just drive off without him.

As much as I was angry with him for keeping something else from me, part of me knew there was a reason why he was. I didn’t agree with it, but I guess I was scared to know anyway. In part, his presence in my life irked me, but mostly, it gave me a feeling of security. As complicated as my life was becoming, his addition to it seemed to make things tamer and even more hopeful. I’d pondered why I’d felt so much indifference toward him at times; I tried pegging his close-to-perfectionism. It was so irritating to me that he always seemed to be right about everything; then, I would just try to argue with him for the sake of arguing. Of course, he was right. I was relentless and stubborn and just plain childish at times. My stomach growled as my head remained enveloped in all of my thoughts. I was too proud to go back inside to eat with him, so I decided to shut my eyes and wait for the sleep to hit me. It was during that quiet moment that I realized I really wasn’t mad anymore, which surprised me.

Not more than five minutes went by before I heard a knuckle tapping at the window of the driver’s side. It was Hayden. I unlocked the doors and he shoved himself in, holding two carry-out bags and placing them carefully in the back seat.

I looked at him questioningly. “I thought you were going to finish your meal.”

“If you recall, I said I’d you meet you in the car. What kind of man would I be, making you sit out here and wait for me to finish my meal?” He was serious, which was perplexing. What made his question even more peculiar was his use of the word “man.” I’d mentally noted his choice of the word and decided not to respond, in hopes that his question was a rhetorical one. In the silence that followed, he nodded to the bags. “I ordered you some extra breadsticks with your dinner.” He turned the engine and backed out of the parking space, switching his eyes between the rear view mirror and front windshield.

I narrowed my eyes at him, studying his serious expression. I always did that when I was thinking too hard; narrowing my eyes and concentrating. “Thanks,” was all I could say. I was beginning to see that his unpredictability would remain a constant struggle for me.

“I know you like them,” he said nonchalantly as we turned out onto the busy road.

We were quiet for a few minutes. I chewed on my bottom lip and played with a piece of my hair, contemplating if I really wanted to ask what had been on my mind since we were at the bank, aside from the crap that made me angry.

“So, what’s with the last name?” I blurted.

His eyes shot a look over to me and then back to the road again. “Crow?”

I nodded.

He shrugged, and I saw the corner of his lips go up into a crooked smile. “I liked the movie.”

Of course he did. I couldn’t help my forming smile, so I turned to look out of the window, silently gloating that I’d lightened the mood. That was all we said for the whole drive home.

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