Negative Zero (Book 1)

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Chapter 9: Roulette

Chapter Nine Roulette

It was dark once again, and I knew they’d be out there - Seekers is what Hayden called them - but I didn’t want to scare myself by taking another look. I decided to stay inside my bubble for a little while longer and concentrate on the next part of our plans.

The question had finally surfaced in my mind and probably should have been the first one I’d asked after finding out I had a monster bank account. “Hayden, I may already know the answer to this, but where did all this money come from? I mean, I know my dad set up the account, but how did he get it in the first place?”

Hayden took off his jacket, threw it on the bed, and ran his hand through his hair. God, it made me light-headed when he did that. Why, oh why, did he have to do that? I waited for him to tell me Jack robbed a bank or maybe his life insurance policy was massively huge, and my mother threw it all into the account he opened once he died.

“You remember I told you about Jack’s gift?” I nodded in response to his question. “After he Crossed, he acquired that gift.” Hayden chuckled as he recalled what he was about to tell me. “He tried it out once on a state lottery after pulling some numbers out of his, well, you know. Anyway, it was a low lotto pot that year, but he won. He took the lump sum, I think it was around one point two million, and then he invested it in all the right places: stocks, CDs, all that mumbo-jumbo. That was where it started, anyway.”

“So he knew which markets would go sky high or plummet then, right?” I was beginning to get the idea.

Hayden pointed his finger at me. “You guessed it. Actually, it was kind of funny after he won the first million. He and Lavinia were just starting to get to know each other before becoming close. They butted heads about everything. Jack dragged her off to Windsor and tried out his ‘technique’ up there, and she was reaming him out when he came so close to getting his ass handed to him by security. He wasn’t very slick with it at first; tossing back the drinks and throwing down wads of money. Lavinia talked some sense into him, and he decided to let the Vegas persona go. His giving up gambling made everyone happy, everyone, as in the Guardian Council. Your dad was getting a bit out of hand with the whole “I see the future” thing, and they wanted him to cool it. He was doing more gambling and drinking than he was saving Seekers.” Hayden laughed. “But honestly, he was only nineteen when this new life was thrown at him, so the Council knew he was a work in progress. Anyway, eventually, your dad was able to invest the smart way and kept track of everything through investing in the markets.”

I smiled as I thought about my father acting like an idiot in the casinos. I didn’t remember him well at all, but I just imagined how I would feel, as young as I already was with this new destiny and given a gift like that. I’d be milking it for all its worth, too. I could see myself getting carried away with money, especially in the right atmosphere. Maybe that was why my father did it, the reason why he made Hayden the custodian of the account. With an account full of money, my options were stacking up. Although I was still quite salty about the whole custodian thing, I felt I’d be able to negotiate with Hayden. I’d feel him out, find his soft spot, and make a deal on a few things. My tactics would least, I’d hoped.

“So when does all of this start?” I asked him.

Hayden spun on his heals in the kitchen in front of the open fridge. “What, you mean the whole soul-saving thing?”

I nodded. “Yup.”

“We need to make some plans first before we get into all of that.” He shoveled some of Ms. M’s pasta salad into a bowl. Eating again.

“What kind of plans?”

He took a few bites and waved his fork around, chewing while contemplating an answer. “Like work space.”

“Right,” I played along. “I need an office.”

He smirked. “No, you need more like a warehouse.”

I stared at him. I had no idea if he meant the comment literally or not.

He caught my expression and elaborated.“Obviously, this apartment isn’t going to work,” he said, “so I thought you could pick a place you’d like to live, within reason. We need plenty of land and privacy, so do you have any preferences with those guidelines in mind?”

I looked at him blankly. “Hayden, I have twenty-seven million dollars. I need better-detailed guidelines.”

He rolled his eyes and laughed. “Keep it in the U.S., Evika. That is all that I ask. We have enough going on right now without having to deal with customs and learning a whole new language on top of it. Have you ever thought about getting out of Ohio?”

I laughed and thought for a moment. I’d never been outside of Ohio my whole life, yet I hated the cold and the snow during the winter season. I knew I wanted to go South. “So, what do you want me to do? Just name a place I want to move to and we’ll go?”

“I said within reason,” he reminded me.

I rolled my eyes. “I don’t know.” I walked to the kitchen to grab a Guinness. “South,” I yelled as I popped the cap on the bottle.

“Huh?” he stopped chewing.

“South. You know, somewhere warmer?”

“For starters, it’s a direction, not a place, and I just thought you’d bust out with something like Hawaii.”

“No way.” I shook my head in repulsion.

“What’s wrong with Hawaii?”

“I prefer not living on a floating island in the middle of the ocean.”

Hayden laughed. “It’s quite stationary, Evika.”

“You know what I mean. Too far from the mainland and it’s like a six-hour flight from San Francisco over the ocean.

He sighed. “Okay, so we have the direction, at least. Any clue as to how we are going to narrow the location down or can I just pick it for us?”

Before answering, I had an idea. I ran to the other bedroom and pulled out the poster-sized map from Joel’s closet. It was a map of the United States and all the Interstates for travel. We’d marked it up when we planned on taking a road trip for Joel’s eighteenth birthday, but his birthday came only a few months after losing my mother that year, so it got postponed and the map got shoved away for good. I ran to my desk and got some masking tape to hang the map on the wall.

“What on the Creator’s green earth are you doing?” Hayden watched me fiddle with the roll of tape.

I grinned. “You’ll see.” I then ran to look under my bed for the dart board and darts. I found three of the darts, cleaned them of their dust, and then went back to the map, marking a line across the entire middles of the most southern states with red magic marker.

“Okay, here’s the deal. We’ll blindfold me and I’ll shoot these darts at the map. The first one to land below the red line, with the exception of Hawaii,” I caught Hayden rolling his eyes, “is where we’ll move to.”

Hayden folded his arms and raised his brow. “You’re serious? You want to play a twisted version of roulette with a map to determine where we’ll be moving?”

I shrugged. “Yeah, what’s the problem?”

“Be my guest.” He gestured to the wall with a wave of his hand. “But are you sure you don’t just want to move to Hawaii? It’s Paradise over there.” He wagged his eyebrows at me.

“It’s also that little speck on the map up there, and unless you want to drain my account to start building a bridge from California to your little Paradise, I’m not moving there.”

He laughed at me again. “Evika, will you just let go once in a while?”

I swore what he said could have had a double meaning. “Hmm. If I recall correctly, the last time I let go, it got me into this mess, and I’m now half dead.”

Hayden looked at me solemnly, then eased into his devilish grin. “But it brought you to me, didn’t it?”

I shook my head and laughed. “For cryin’ out loud, are all of you this cocky?”

“Angels? Nah, just me as far as I know.”

“Thank goodness for that.” I sifted through my drawer for a bandanna.

Hayden let out a heavy sigh. “Would you, at the very least, consider taking a vacation there? We could take a boat. That may take us a hundred years, but we’d get there eventually.”

“Ha. Ha.” Ugh. He just wasn’t letting the idea of Hawaii go. I thought for a moment. I’d always wanted to go to one of the Hawaiian islands, but fear got the best of me when it came to flying over the ocean. I knew I’d bring myself to do it if I ever got the chance to, but I found this was a great opportunity for me to slip in one of my requests. “We can go someday,” I started to smirk, “only if I get the car I want.”

Hayden’s shoulders dropped. “Bribing me? Now you have a car in mind? You already have a car.”

“That poor excuse for a car is on its last leg! Do you really want me driving around in that monstrosity while I’m being chased by Drones?”

He sighed heavily again. “I’m afraid to ask, but what kind of car do you want?”

I looked at him and said it without missing a beat. “A Mustang.” His expression remained with only a slight lift in his brow, so I kept going. “A brand, spankin’, new Shelby GT500, to be exact.”

Hayden choked on a bite of pasta. “What? Are you serious?”

“Yeah. Why, did I stutter?”

“Uh, Evika, those are extremely expensive.”

“Especially after all of my add-ons,” I said assuringly, “but, you know, it’s a fast car. Great for escaping demonic creatures and such.”

He narrowed his eyes. “That’s what I’m here for, to protect you from those. You don’t need to blow money on a ridiculous car for that.”

He was frustrating me, but I figured I’d spout off one more comment and let it simmer with him. “Fine. I’ll keep my death-trap jalopy, and one day when I bolt out of the house in the south, upset with you for some reason, which is highly likely to happen I might add, and a Drone decides to come up and swipe me across my neck again before you get there and I can’t escape because my car dies on me, I’ll be sure to say I told you so. You know, if I’m still alive.”

Hayden shook his head, laughing. “You are an extremely long-winded negotiator. Do you know that?”

“Well, you’re terrible at giving in.” I stuck out my tongue.

He grinned. “I’ve had hundreds of lifetimes to practice the art and all of your lifetime to study your angles.”

I rolled my eyes. I took the bandanna and tied it around my head to cover my eyes. “Put a pin in the car subject. Let’s get crackin’ at this going South thing. I’ll throw one at a time and keep doing it until you say I hit below the red line, got it?”

“Go ahead.” He sounded exasperated. I wanted to laugh.

I shot the first dart.

“Ocean,” Hayden said.

I shot the second.

“Hm. I never thought about Canada.”

Jeez, my aim was off. “Forget it. Here’s the last one.” I threw the last dart.

“Bingo. Hey, that’ll work.” Hayden sounded satisfied.

I whipped the bandanna off of my head to look. I walked up to the map. “Savannah, Georgia.” I said aloud. I knew it was where I wanted to go. “Sounds good to me. We can go online tomorrow and check out some of the real estate. We should shoot for oceanfront.” I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth. Oceanfront? Really? I was talking as if I’d been making these plans forever. “I heard Tybee Island is nice. It’s not really an island, per se, it’s a peninsula and in the same county as Savannah, I think.”

“Whoa there, soldier,” Hayden put his hands up. “Slow down. Oceanfront property is expensive, and Tybee Island? You’re talking anywhere from half a million to quadruple that amount.”

“Need I remind you of my bank account?”

“Need I remind you that you’re talking about blowing through money like it’s a bag of chips?”

“Only a fraction of it. Let me live a little.”

Hayden narrowed his eyes, playfully. “You’re really pushing it.”

I smirked. “What, your buttons?” I took a swig of my beer.

He folded his arms and started pacing, but I could see the small smile on his face. I waited patiently to hear what was brewing in his angel mind.

He stopped pacing and faced me. “If I agree to sign off on enough money to buy the ridiculous vehicle you want and the ridiculous house you want, which will be no more than half a million by the way, then you have to promise me something in return.”

Oh, great. What could he possibly want from me? I braced myself and sighed. “What do you want?”

He looked at me solemnly and then at the bottle in my hand. “I want you to cool it on the drinking.”

I looked at him in shock. Did I hear him right? “What?”

“Curbing the habit. It’s all I’m asking you to do.” He was serious.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I saw his expression and I heard what he said, but it wasn’t computing. Who in the hell did he think he was? My blank stare must have cued him to elaborate.

“Evika, once you start, you just don’t know when to quit. It’s a poison to you, and you need to cut back.....a lot. Don’t you know how many of your binges I’ve witnessed? All of them. Believe me, Joel knew, but he didn’t know the half of it. I watched you polish off everything you had left in that bottom cupboard during the entire week after he left.” He paused for a moment, re-evaluating his tone as I stared at him with my pursed lips. “Evika, I know that you have a hard time accepting Nora’s death, but the heavy drinking has got to stop. It’s not good for your health, and it’s not good for this relationship. I have to keep you safe, and I’m going to start at the core.”

I felt my lips fusing into one hard line and my body heat rise. How dare he dictate how I was to live my life? How dare he give me an ultimatum and use my own money against me? I could do whatever I wanted with it if it weren’t for his involvement on the account. How could he have the audacity to mention my mother’s death as just a “hard time” of acceptance for me? Really? Hard time?

I felt the heat in my skin as I spoke through my teeth to him. “You know nothing about what I’ve been through!” I grabbed my jacket and went to the door.

Hayden ran to the door and pushed his hand against it, holding it shut as I tried to open it. “Evika, I’m not discrediting---”

“Just stop!” I slammed the bottle onto the dresser. I shook my head, still in disbelief that he would speak to me that way. “Of all people, you should understand since you know me inside and out, right?” I put all my might into a full shove into him to get him out of the way and twisted the doorknob, knowing full well that I was about to make a huge mistake. “You don’t know me at all, Hayden.”

I slammed the door behind me and pulled my jacket on. I thought about which would be the lesser of the two evils and concluded that remaining in the apartment with Hayden was worse than exploring the outside air and possibly seeing those lurking dead people. I knew I had to act quickly to have just a little peace to myself, and even though I felt afraid, I also felt trapped and didn’t want to remain a prisoner in my own home. I had to get out. I wanted to blow off my steam because I had a lot of it, yet again. I scrambled down the stairs, taking all nine flights down. It wasn’t enough. I darted out the front door to the street and looked down each way. Nothing but a few cars, and then the rain started. I heard the rolling thunder in the distance. Go figure. But you know, I welcomed it. I wanted the rain, and I wanted the sound it made when it hit the pavement. I wanted to watch the puddles form in the street.

There I was again, getting pissed off at the drop of a hat and running away. I hated my temper, hated myself. I felt sick inside because, deep down, I knew that Hayden was right, and I hated him for it. I hated him for saying everything out loud and making me act this way. I hated that he said things so bluntly to me. No sugar-coating, no censoring. Where was his damned alert button that stopped his mouth? Ugh!

I wasn’t ready to admit that I’d been killing myself for so long and I could possibly be better and feel better if I just didn’t drown out the hurt every time I felt the pain coming. The pain was always there. It never went away; it never subsided.

The rain began pouring, coming down hard. I was drenched in an instant. I stood there letting it take me, wishing it could just cleanse me and wash away everything bad, so I could start anew.

“You always run away from your problems, don’t you?” I heard him yell behind me through the hard-falling rain.

I turned to see him just as soaked as I was. I glared at him and yelled back. “I guess that’s your way of admitting that you are my problem?”

Hayden pursed his lips and shook his head at me. “You know, you can be such an infant sometimes!” he yelled back.

“Wow, and to think, just this morning I was acting like a child. Such progress I’ve made.”

He shook his head as he walked up. Rain dripped from his nose and chin and from the hair in his face. The street light sparkled in his eyes when he looked at me.

“And you are absolutely impossible to communicate with,” he added.

He knew just what to say to frustrate me even more than I already was. “You’ve known me all my life and are just now figuring that out?” I threw my hands in the air and turned to continue walking. I didn’t even know where I was going; I didn’t care.

Hayden grabbed my arm. “You can be mad at me all you want, Evika, but until you learn that living in a bottle for the rest of your life won’t bring her back, I can’t be subtle about how I feel about your habit.”

I yanked my arm from his grip and shrieked. “You have not a clue the kind of hell I’ve been living every day without her!” I glared hard at him then, feeling the tears spill over. I yelled at him with such anger that my throat throbbed in pain. I could feel the words in my throat, the ones I’d have to say aloud, and they stung. “Do you have any idea what pain feels like, Hayden? I’m not talking about cuts or scrapes or broken bones.” I smacked my hand to his chest. “I’m talking about hard-core pain right here in your heart, witnessing your own mother sporting a bullet-hole in her stomach, dying in your arms, feeling helpless, defeated, and devastated when she’s bleeding all over your clothes in the middle of the fucking sidewalk after being shot to death by a man who still roams free as we speak!” Closing my eyes, I leaned my back against the building, lifted my face to the sky and let the rain mix with my tears and wash my face. Why couldn’t the rain just heal me? Why couldn’t Hayden just let me be? As if I hadn’t already discovered enough changes in my life in the past twenty-four hours, now I was forced to get a whole new makeover. “I died that day, Hayden,” I cried. “A part of me died, and I’ll never get it back.”

Hayden sloshed over to me and put his arms against the building by my head as he leaned in closely. “Evika,” he looked at me solemnly, “I’m not discrediting your love for her, your hurt, or your anger over the loss. I’d be crazy to do that, but you need to know that you are still here for a reason and this life will only get harder if you keep your vices. Your importance to this world is so much bigger than you could ever imagine. I need you to see that.”

I looked into his eyes and wondered, if I was so messed up, why was I thrown into this life in the first place? “Then maybe this was all a mistake, maybe I’m the wrong person.”

Hayden smiled and gave a nod to his side. “They don’t seem to think so.”

I narrowed my eyes and turned to look further into the darkness past his shoulder and over to the lining street lights. I saw them standing there huddled in small masses in the rain, all looking at me with hopeful eyes.

“There are no mistakes in who’s chosen, Evika,” Hayden said.

I made a conscious effort to stay calm, but realized this time they were people, just people, men and women of all ages and wearing all types of clothing from different times. One man was in a tattered tux. One woman with gray hair was wearing a flowered sun dress and a straw hat. There was another man in a pin-striped suit from the nineteen-thirties, and a young female who looked no older than I in go-go boots and a white dress. It was overwhelming to see so many different faces among these souls who needed help.

I looked into all of the pairs of expectant eyes, and I could see a sadness that lay behind them. The rain slowed up, and the Seekers walked among the street, almost floating inches above the pavement as they moved. Maybe they knew I needed my moment because they started dissipating. Seeing them up close didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. Hayden was right; they were people. I thought about how they felt trapped and wanted to move on. I remembered that Hayden said I was considered a vessel for the Seekers, and that is how they are set free.

I thought about the vessel that would set me free, the way in which my life might gain balance again; somehow, I knew it was standing right in front of me in that rain.

I turned my head to look into his eyes again. “I’m not good at change, Hayden.” It was all I could admit, but it was the truth.

He smiled and studied me for a moment. “I’ll take what I can get. A little bit at a time is progress in my eyes,” he said before grabbing all of my wet hair and twisting out the rain. This nurturing side of him baffled me, but I liked it, and I needed it. I was amazed at the calm I felt within me so quickly when he was near or when he touched me. It was often subtle, but noticeable.

Hayden ran his hand through his own hair, shook out the rain, and looked at our clothes. “Something has got to give with this weather.”

The way his chest was defined through that wet, black t-shirt was undoubtedly the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, and it made my head spin. It made me wonder what else was underneath. I shrugged. “I don’t know. I kinda like it.” Kinda? Please. If it were at all humane, I’d keep the boy outside in shackles in the rain all day long so I could watch him do moves like he’d just done: running his hands through his wet hair. Once I started imagining myself pulling that shirt off of him, I shook the thought, realizing he was still looking at me and smirking. “Uh, I mean the rain just seems to cleanse everything when it falls. It’s nice.”

Why did he make me so crazy and flustered? And why was he staring at me like he was waiting for something? God, I wanted to grab his hair and yank him toward me to plant my lips right on his. I would have thrown all inhibitions out the window just to kiss him right there in the rain. Stop this, Evika! You’re being ridiculous! That’s not what he wants. Of course, it wasn’t. Hayden wanted an agreement. He probably wanted an apology, but I don’t do those.

He laughed. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. What’s so funny?”

“Nothing really. You were just looking at me with your mouth open.” He seemed truly oblivious to my thoughts. “Do I have something in my teeth?” he joked. Was he really that unaware?

“Hmm.” Oh crap. What do I say? What do I say? “Just wondering if you have any more stipulations for me that you’d like to add before I get my car and my house is all.” I folded my arms. I was sure I had covered my “speechlessness,” but I wasn’t sure if that would explain the involuntary body language I’d displayed.

He nodded condescendingly. “I see.” He locked his hands behind his back and started pacing. “I might need to take a raincheck on that suggestion, if you don’t mind. Pun intended.”

“Of course I mind. No rainchecks. Lay it out now.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Why not?” I huffed.

“Because you haven’t even given me some sort of agreement to the first one.”

I rolled my eyes and sighed heavily. This conversation was not working in my favor at all. “I’ best,” I finally said to him.

Hayden grinned at me. “It’s all I ask of you. Effort. Now, was that so hard?”

I figured he was referring to the fact that I’d just indirectly admitted that he was right about the drinking habits. “You have no idea,” I muttered.

“Hmm.” He studied me again. “Until we see how that goes, this stipulation thing will have to be left open. You know, put a pin in it?” I glowered at the comment. “But, for now,” he continued, “as long as you try, you can have the car and the house you want. Do we have a deal?” He held out his hand to me. “Shake on it?”

I looked down at his hand and back to his beautiful eyes to give him an incredulous stare.

“My word is golden, Evika,” he said to me solemnly, drumming his fingers through the air.

It was funny that he thought my reluctance was due to my not trusting him to follow through when it was really me that I didn’t trust. Nonetheless, I reached for his hand and shook it, wondering if I would regret the agreement later.

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