I glanced at the clock. It was nearing one and still no sign of Leighton. To say I felt like I was being stood up would be a huge injustice to my feelings. I had been desperately trying to distract myself so the time would pass faster by watching music videos on my television. This effort was sadly in vain. Nothing could ease the jitters.
Out of nowhere my television screen turned off. My heart dropped, not out of fear, but out of pure excitement, because – if my suspicions were right – this meant Leighton was nearby. Turns out my women’s intuition was more acute to these things than I expected. I rushed to the window so I could patrol my front lawn for any glimpse of the handsome boy. Instead what I caught a glimpse of was absolute darkness.
Disappointed to say the least, I slouched and turned back around. My eyes were irrefutably graced by the most beautiful boy they had ever seen, standing there so poised with his head leaned. Lustrous, deep brown hair framed the edges of his face, the fringe of his hair seemingly pushed away by fingers that had run through it.
My throat mimicked the dryness of the desert heat the city offered, and words eluded me. The obvious tension in the room was enough to make Leighton crack a smile. He knew that he created a feeling of suspense and he took pleasure in doing so.
“Leighton,” my voice was quiet, frightened, “You’re here.”
His head dropped some, but his eyes never broke their focus. I could tell he was reading me for an idiot by the way he stared.
“I said I was going to come, didn’t I?” He spoke so confidently.
“Yeah, you did.” I stared at the floor, feeling dumb for acting so naïve.
“Meet me outside, there’s something I want to show you.”
I snapped my eyes back to where he stood. Just like he had appeared out of thin air, he also disappeared right back into it.
I practically flew my way down the stairs and out the door. The entire time my mind raced through possibilities of how the night could play out. I hoped it remained this expressive and my words stayed fluent.
There was no wind and the atmosphere, like most nights, was warm. Leighton waited for me at the end of the driveway. After some positive mental preparation I joined him.
“Walk with me,” he demanded, “There’s a few things I want you to see.”
Together we headed down the sidewalk, voiceless. My eyes kept drifting to Leighton. For being someone who appeared to be roughly my age, he was undeniably stoic. Strutting around half lidded, he came off jaded.
We had been wandering Desert Shores for a bit now, probably close to fifteen minutes. Leighton guided, and I, like a loyal dog, heeded every footstep. We were approaching a street called Breakwater Drive. There was a bridge visible that peered over a lake, that under the light of the moon glistened.
“Sage.” His voice was assertive and startled me.
“Have you ever been here?”
I looked around the area he had brought me to. We stopped about halfway across the bridge when Leighton turned towards me, resting his arm against the barrier that sat atop a stone guideline. I had passed through here several times prior to this moment and thought nothing of it.
“What do you see here, Sage?”
My eyes didn’t want pull away from Leighton’s. I was occupied with taking in every detail of him in the moment. Tonight he had on gray high tops, and midnight black denim jeans with an almost skin tight black tee that hugged his slender, athletic figure.
Barely managing to avert my eyes, I viewed around the lake. Several yellow-whitish houses with orangey shingled roofs decorated the lakeside. Tall, looming palm trees hung about the buildings and the lake itself reminded me of glittery specs.
“I see a nice neighborhood,” I began, my voice quivering momentarily, “and that house has their lights on.” I pointed to what I thought was a house with several windows that was fairly well lit up.
Leighton scoffed, and a smile crossed his lips.
I watched Leighton, then quickly returned to the assignment he had bestowed upon me. I sucked in my cheeks, deep in thought. I felt like I was trying to put together a puzzle with all the right pieces but no picture to go off of.
“Alright,” my eyes riveted across the water, “I don’t know what I’m looking for.”
Leighton snatched me by the arm and with a thud my back slammed against his chest. Both of his hands covered my eyes, jumpstarting my heartrate. I set my hands on his wrist and took a deep breath in.
“I want you to shut out everything. Everything you know about this reality. And when I take my hands away I want for you to focus on your surroundings very carefully. Do you understand what I have just said?”
He was so dominating. So demanding.I squeezed his wrist, holding my breath.
His hands moved away from my face and my eyes readjusted to the darkness. Paying close attention, as instructed, I tuned out everything but the sound of my own heartbeat. My eyes closely investigated building after building, even inspecting the windows closely, looking for some clue to – well – anything.
“I’m sorry Leighton,” I admitted defeat, “I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be seeing. Everything looks the same as it always does.”
I spun to face him, his expression reprimanding my ignorance that only he justified. His hands cupped my face, his fingers covering my ears lightly. He gazed into my eyes with those emerald gems that took place of his own. Thick, furrowed eyebrows pressed me to try harder.
I blew out a wisp of air and flared my nostrils. Tightly puckering my lips while lost in thought, Leighton upturned my face. The night sky was glowing with stars so vibrant that it seemed as if though the Milky Way had moved next door to Earth alongside the moon. Slowly he returned my face to rest parallel with my feet.
“Forget the reality you know for once, Sage.” He encouraged me again before he released my face from his strong, yet relenting hands.
I, again, had a go at whatever this bizarre exercise was, facing around. Like a sheet had been lifted from my vision, suddenly miniscule, fuzzy, almost transparent orbs began to materialize. Several were gaggled together in the structures atop the edge of the water. A few would be moving along, while others were stationary in one place.
Fascinated I look on at the orbs that inhabited the area, both sides of the bridge harboring many of them. They were beautiful, captivating, and so much like the tiny spores of a dandelion that were blown away in honor of a wish someone made. The small, circular entities seemed to have very different agendas. They acted similar to individual people, floating from different windows of each house or seemingly frozen, dormant, like a person sleeping.
“Wow.” Truly speechless I spectated on.
Leighton again scoffed taking his place beside me and leaning his elbows against the railing, crossing one foot over the other.“What is this Leighton? It’s gorgeous.”
“This is my world,” he casually informed, “Where I speculate about the living.”
“Wait, you mean those are people?” He must have found the curiosity in my voice laughable because he faintly snickered.
“The orbs are people who are still alive. Their souls are rooted deep within their vessels, so they only appear as translucent orbs.”
The orbs continued to flutter around, only identifiable by the harsh, glowing edges they possessed. These balls of light were people who were alive. Just people going about their everyday business, checking their fridge, watching television, sleeping. These were people just like me, who, exactly like me – well, until this very moment – didn’t know anything of this reality that existed beyond the boundary of life and death. I couldn’t fathom what I was witnessing, and in my enchanted spaced out state must have come off like a child at the toy store.
“You see this every day?” I questioned.
“I live in this world,” he countered, “It shares your reality but is vastly, scarily different. Here, the afterlife coexists with the living.”
“So then, that means there are more than just you?”
Dumbfounded by my apparent stupidity yet again, Leighton raised an eyebrow, clenching his jaw. He ran his fingers through his perfectly styled hair and returned to supporting his elbows on the barrier.
“I wouldn’t be here if there weren’t others. Like those who walk the Earth with blood in their veins, there are communities here where souls of good or evil nature have found balance.”“There are good souls here, too?”
Leighton looked up at the stars, his eyes following patterns, like that of a paintbrush, that stroked up then back down. I followed his actions and too became an onlooker of the early morning sky. Quickly I caught sight of what he was watching. Practically blending in with the stars, if not for their almost blinding, thin tails of fiery, ocean blue light, were glowing stellar circles that flew across the sky. They would fall a ways down then gracefully return to hiding amongst the stars.
I suddenly felt like I was only a small fragment on the existential plane I walked. The gravity of what I was seeing set in slowly. Leighton had introduced me into his world. A world that people had their suspicions of, but could be never be certain. Here I was balancing on the line that separated the two. Dozens of questions filled my head all at once, and I struggled to organize my thoughts into articulate sentences.
“You said a while back that none of my friends or family could see you right? Only me?”
“That I did,” he answered, “Why?”
“Is the same reason I can see you why I can see them?”
“Only those who have crossed that boundary can see beyond it. So essentially, yes.”
His eyes traced my figure. He straightened up before offering me his hand, outstretched porcelain fingers beckoning me to take it. I lightly set my palm on his. His grasp was gentle this time, causing me disbelief that I was holding the same guy’s hand who accused me of being ignorant every time he saw me. We began walking, my heart doing backflips behind my ribcage. I kept a small distance between us even though we were walking hand in hand, noticing his shoulder blades defined by the tight clothing he wore. He never turned to face me.
My thoughts were so enamored with Leighton that I hadn’t paid attention to where he was leading me. I could see the distant sparkling lights of the strip. Solid shining rows indicated major streets that were so bright it looked like one giant illuminated serpent. Whichever street we were on settled somewhere in a residential area. The hum of cars was audible, and a few even passed us by while we walked. I observed some of the passing vehicles. Shimmery orbs appeared in the driver’s seat, and in some cars, multiple seats. It took everything in me not to smile. There was an indescribable feeling in the pit of my stomach that made want to grin like the chesire cat. I couldn’t let Leighton see though. Surely taunting would come of it. After many long, dragging minutes passed, Leighton began explaining “his world” to me.
“There’s a certain rhythm to things in this world. Whether you’re alive or dead the pendulum swings the same, and when it has swung enough you leave the living and join the deceased. Depending on your lifestyle determines how your soul fairs against judgement.”
I eagerly listened, wanting to know more of how Leighton’s end of the stick functioned. He always seemed so mysterious and closed off, like he had built a wall that restricted anyone from knowing the real him. I guess honestly I still didn’t know the real him. At least he was being kind enough to open up with me for once. He continued to steadily pull me along, his hand neither warm nor cold.
“There’s the Two Souls of Judgement, where a person’s soul will be judged based on their character when they were human. If they were virtuous, more than likely their soul would be judged as a Forgiven soul. If they were abundantly sinful, say like a serial killer or someone who did many wrongs, they would be judged as an Unforgiven soul.”
“Wait,” my mind struggled to wrap around what he had just stated, “You said when a person was…human?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Are they not human after they pass? Am I not a human anymore?”
“Don’t be ignorant,” he scolded, “You are still alive. You crossed the boundary of life and death but you haven’t died. Of course you’re human. When a person dies and actually ceases to breathe, the soul leaves its vessel. While demons, angels, spirits, orbs, can maintain their human appearance, they are not human.”
“Oh,” I muttered, “So you aren’t human.”
He laughed. “I’m the embodiment of every human’s desire. I couldn’t be less human if I tried, Sage.”
“Why not?” I gripped his hand tighter, hoping he wouldn’t pay attention.
“I’m not afraid to admit my wrongs. It doesn’t bother me in any way to tell you or any other person that I’ve sinned, a lot. I’m a demon Sage,” he said wryly, “I basically help others live out their sin filled fantasies. I am perfectly flawed, in all the wrong and right ways.”
Leighton was flagrant when he spoke, and I was truly beginning to believe that nothing bothered him. I could virtually ask him anything and get the most blatant response without him giving it so much as a second thought. In some way, it sort of killed my hopes that he would ever truly open to me – about himself anyway.Coyly I responded. “I see.”
“Did I upset you?” He asked, then turned to face me.
Idly I stood there, our fingers managing to become locked. “What do you mean?”
“Did I upset you by that remark?” He questioned.
I didn’t know what to tell him. It felt like I was being quizzed by him, and if I didn’t give the right response he would do something to once again chastise me. I couldn’t predict what though. He expectantly gazed on, waiting for me to give him some type of answer.
“No.” I said unbelievably, no doubt he could tell.
He didn’t pressure me any further, instead returning to his explanation of the orbs and astral-like beings that surrounded us.
“The Forgiven, those comet looking things you saw in the sky, can never touch the living or walk among them, like I can. They can observe, but wishing to be like those alive is considered a sin, too. The Forgiven can end up like me, and fall back down to Earth, if they’re stupid.”
“You were an angel once?”
He grinned, showing off his exemplary teeth, his canines and the teeth behind them slightly elongated. “No. Although, I think their wings are leagues beyond demons.”
“Demons have wings?” I involuntarily blurted out.“Certain ones, yeah. I don’t care too much to use mine, but I guess if a situation ever called for them I would.”
My imagination pictured beautiful black wings emerging from Leighton’s back, each wing having feathers uniquely divine that were unflawed and lustered. The image in my mind was enough to take my breath away. I bit the inside of my bottom lip. I was starting to think there was much more to Leighton than I could possibly, ever hope to know.“Then there are the Unforgiven,” he pointed behind me, “like that guy.”
Apprehensively I turned to see what he was pointing at. Trudging our way with feet that drug across the asphalt was a man who looked severely emaciated. He was wearing very average looking clothes, a dark blue tee-shirt and faded denim jeans. He had no shoes on, and because of this I could see his feet, hands, and arms were covered in the black taint that mine were the first time I had met Leighton. His cheeks were deeply sunken in, and under his eyes appeared to be very hollow. Black taint covered his bottom jaw and down past his chin onto his neck. Clearly he was no angel or Forgiven soul. Walking along, he seemed to be chanting something in a low, weeping voice.
“Why won’t anybody talk to me? Why won’t anybody talk to me? Do they even see me?” He repeated this phrase on the verge of tears as he edged closer to Leighton and I, my body becoming heavy with fear.
The man came a little closer before noticing Leighton and I standing there. His head perked up, unsure if we were actually looking at him or past him. I drew in a sharp breath, horrified to see a being who looked so human and deranged. His lips curved up, realizing we were staring right at him, and he smiled, delusional. He began walking faster now, his toes scraping the street, coming right towards me. Adrenaline filled my veins, but I remained glued in place. Twinges of fear spiked in my hands and feet. It started feeling more like a dare to see how long I could remain still while the gap between a potential psycho and myself diminished. I wanted so badly to escape and high tail it the other direction, but Leighton hadn’t even flinched.
“You can see me!” The crazed man expressed his delight, his teeth a tobacco stained yellow.
“Leighton.” I whispered mortified.
Leighton remained silent behind me, my terror increasing as the space between the lunatic and us began closing. There was no second thoughts about what was happening. Leighton was going to let me perish. I was certain the man was going to throw me to the ground and began munching on me zombie style. He would start with my neck and eat his way through, until eventually, I too became a zombie, or he realized how chewy and boney my body was. We had to have been no more than ten feet apart when Leighton out of nowhere was in front of me. He stretched his left arm out with two fingers outright and the rest bent down. His index and middle fingers met with the man’s forehead, right between his eyes. Dropping to his knees, the almost skeletal like figure was silenced. Leighton never took his eyes off him, and boringly watched on as the man’s mouth hung open, then he fell backwards onto the road.
I inhaled a shaky breath, swallowing hard. Leighton looked over his shoulder at me, those piercing green eyes pulling me in. He must be used to things like this enough that it doesn’t disconcert him. I glimpsed at the body beside Leighton’s feet. There were so many things I didn’t know about this twisted, dark world he existed in. As if he had just read my thoughts, Leighton proceeded to explain how things in this realm worked, turning on his heels to face me.
“That was one of the tormented. Guys like him are everywhere. There are –,” he stopped, trying to find the right words to better explain, “ladders, I guess, that dictate how things are run when you are one of the damned.”
“You mean like a business corporation?” I wondered, still visibly unnerved.
“Sure. When someone who has been judged as an Unforgiven enters Hell, they have to suffer their damnation. It’s brutal, to say the least. You have the tormented, and the tormentors. Then you have demons like me who form and hold contracts, and demons like the Repentants who survive off of innocence.”
Leighton cantered away like the incident that just occurred never happened. Esteemed at the idea that I was getting a crash course in Demonology 101, I ensured myself that everything he shared with me would be mentally noted. That way the next time a conversation regarding anything that happened here tonight was brought up, I would not be looked at as an idiot by Leighton.
We were headed back in the direction of my house. The Nevada desert sky held no clouds, it rarely did. Our footsteps were very out of sync with each other but somehow maintained an almost rhythmic beat. I was enveloped in the greenery surrounding us, and strangely was rationing the amount of palm trees to regular trees in the area. I’m not someone to bring along for a dinner party where people chatter and converse about work in the office or their most recent vacation. I couldn’t initiate interesting conversation if my life depended on it, and that’s just around normal people I might see every day. How was I going to spark conversation with a demon who lived, for lack of a better word, in a much more diverse world than I?
“So,” I mumbled, “What if a demon breaks the rules a contract institutes? You never finished telling me the day we first met.”Leighton shoved his hands in his pockets, gliding easily ahead of me before stopping at my mailbox. I hadn’t even realized we were at my home, much less that we were in my neighborhood. My house was pitch black other than the porch lights and a dim haze that shone through my window. I must have left the television on static in my rush to get outside when we left.
“They don’t. Holding contracts is a privilege. Any demon idiotic enough to break contract, albeit a select few are, has profoundly unforgiving consequences to endure.”
“Like what?” I inquired.
I hesitated on my next words but was cut short when something peculiar showed up in my peripheral vision. I turned my head toward the unknown object. Whatever it was seemed to be quite a distance from where Leighton and I were standing. Squinting to try and better see it, I honed my senses on the gray mass lifting in the sky. The tiny orbs appeared once again in the houses that were in my neighborhood. They hovered in place, which I guess meant my neighbors were sleeping. That is something normal people did at almost three in the morning after all. It was then that I realized, while dedicatedly focused, that the orbs appeared on the outside of the houses. In fact, they weren’t still either. They were bouncing around like a game of Pong after the bars that reflected the ball had almost trapped it indefinitely. Their movement was so quick back and forth, like they were trapped in a small container, that they appeared still. Had this happened at the lake, too?
I retrieved my wandering thoughts and resumed observing the moving object. It began to take shape the longer I looked, and soon took on the form of a very humanoid figure. My jaw tensed at the thought that I may be looking at a person who was ascending into space – or, heaven. Fascinated, I couldn’t pull my eyes away. Leighton stepped beside me and, unimpressed, watched as well.
“Leighton,” I asked, intrigued, “Is that a…person?”
“People don’t fly, Sage. It’s a soul.”
“A soul?” Someone’s soul was ascending into the sky. I couldn’t believe it.
“That is what I said,” he spoke condescendingly, “People die every single day, and when they do, their souls leave their body. Then they have to go on trial for judgement, where their souls end up becoming one of the three types based on that judgement. That’s a rainy soul.”
“A rainy soul?” I scratched the back of my head, looking to the sky still.
“There are three types of souls that exit a vessel –or person’s body.” He pointed left of where we were looking. “Over there is a white soul. They are commonly referred to as luminescent souls because they are bright in appearance.”
I turned my attention to where he had pointed. Just like the rainy soul, it was being pulled upward to the sky. It too was very humanoid except that it had a very ethereal presence that surrounded it unlike the other one. It was mesmerizing to look at, practically unreal.
“Souls like that one are untouchable by demons. They have done either no wrong, or very little. Usually they belong to infants or children. Humans that tend to be younger, they do less damage. Children, up to a certain age, don’t purposefully do wrong. So their souls are safe from monsters like me.”“No demons can touch them?” I asked confused.
“No. They don’t even know we exist. How could they when they don’t know what greed, envy, or lust are? Like I said, children don’t purposefully try to do wrong. It’s like they have a veil that shields them from evil. We can’t touch them, period.”
Leighton’s eyes filled with a distant stare, like he was helplessly lost in thought. He watched the innocent spirit with such longing. I wondered if maybe Leighton wished he could join that spirit, get away from all the bad he had spoken of earlier.
Coming back to his senses, Leighton picked back up where he had left off.
“The rainy soul you saw is one that has neither committed unspeakable crimes but hasn’t necessarily remained perfect. Basically most teenagers and adults. They've done a fair share of both good and bad. It’s a balance.”
Leighton smiled passively. When he wasn’t being stern and complex, he was like any other person. He had a rough, intricate, exterior that was unintentionally seducing. On the inside however, I saw a boy who wanted out. Unknowingly, I admired the complicated person that Leighton was. He was unique, captivating. Perhaps selling my soul to him wouldn’t be that bad after all.
While I pondered over my future soul binding contract with Leighton, another soul began ascending in the background. Then another, and another. I watched in awe as the sky gradually filled with souls, luminescent, rainy, and…black? There were souls whose color appeared charcoal. They must have been tainted, like mine.
“The Three Souls of Passing are white, gray, and black. Otherwise called luminescent, rainy, or tainted.” Leighton spoke matter of factly.
I glanced at him, then shyly twirled my hair in my fingers. “Is that how you found me?”
“Yes.” He turned his head towards me. “Early in the morning up until around dawn, souls go through what is called transit. Transitioning is when the souls leave the earthly realm and enter the one I exist in. That’s also when demons are out hunting.”
“You go out hunting?” I heard the thick sarcasm in my own voice. “What are you going to do when I die? Eat me?”
For the first time, and more than likely last time ever, I think Leighton appreciated my satirical rebound. The corners of his mouth formed a smile.
“Yes, but not to eat souls. Takers hunt to form contracts, Tormentors hunt for those judged as the damned to drag to hell, and Repentants hunt for innocence by feeling the waves of heavily tainted souls.”
“How does that work,” I asked, “Repentants?”
“Think about it. In the midst of great darkness there has to be a light for it to consume. It sounds conflicting, but it’s almost so simple you don’t realize it. More than anything demons like those take away people’s happiness until there is none, and it really drives them over the edge.”
My pulse quickened, the reality of how terrible the world he came from coming and giving me anxiety. If demons that insignificant, at least compared to Leighton, were that powerful… no telling what Leighton himself was capable of doing. He could have been tricking me right then and there. Demons were cunning after all, especially the ones like him. He had said so himself that their entire agenda consisted of gaining someone’s trust so they could get what they wanted.
“Repentants are only attracted to tainted souls, right?”
“Right,” he assured me, “Only tainted souls. Although, rainy ones can be fair game. Teenagers are most vulnerable since white souls are off limit.”
He quieted, attempting to pique my curiosity. He tilted his head, raising his eyebrows and looking smugly at me. I couldn’t figure out if he was toying with me and trying to act cool to be funny, or if he was being one hundred percent serious. Whatever he was doing, it worked. I was extremely dumbfounded and wanted nothing more than to understand.
I studied him for a moment, wondering how he felt about my soul and if it even meant anything to him. Maybe I was just another dime a dozen to him. It was hard to tell with Leighton who was so puzzling and, to me at least, seemingly spoke in riddles. A million questions were crossing my mind but one stuck out in particular.
“You said one of the rules you had to abide by specifically was not entering a living person’s personal space without their permission,” I saw my house coming into view from where we were and resumed walking, “So how can you coax a person to let you in knowing what you are? I mean…they do know…don’t they?”
Leighton glanced at me through stray hairs in his face. My cheeks felt flushed and I immediately turned away before he could notice. I didn’t want him to insult me for uncontrollable shyness.
“If we aren’t first summoned by people who are trying to form a contract on their own, we normally only come after people who are weak, or suffering greatly. They are easier to convince. Make a few promises that are simple to fulfill and humans are all over it. They don’t even think about what happens when they die.”
“Is that why you came to me,” I walked up my driveway and leaned against my red Mazda, “Was I an easy target?”
Leighton put both his hands on either side of me, pressing roughly up against the car. His eyes pinpointed me like arrows shot by a master archer. I could tell he was looking past my gaze at the mixed feelings brewing inside my head.
“You were different. Are different. I haven’t gotten your soul yet, have I?”
Another smile graced my lips which I fought to restrain. He thought I was different. Truth be told, I appreciated that he thought that, though, it was more so playing hard to get than being different, in my opinion anyway.
I wanted to respond but a loud, ear deafening screech echoed through the lifeless neighborhood. It was worse than nails scratching against a chalkboard or car brakes being slammed on. I clutched my ears tightly and hunched down. Leighton didn’t react at all.
“Ow! Leighton what the hell is that?” My voice was shaky like I had been crying.
He held his hand out to assist me. I pulled myself up with his help and shoved my fingers in my ears. The screeching was unbearable and no matter how hard I plugged my ears the sound wouldn’t disappear. Leighton continued to casually stand there like the bloodcurdling noise was nothing more than the buzz of a mosquito. Moments later he decided to tell me what the sound was.
His voice was slightly muffled by my fingers, which were successfully lodged halfway in my ears. I couldn’t hear as much of a distinct hum as when the sound first started and I blocked it out, so cautiously I removed my fingers and was relieved to not hear anything other than some birds chirping.
“Demons?” I remarked.“Yes. This is usually the time they come to take tainted souls.”
He locked his fingers and placed his hands on the back of his head.
Fearfully I peered at the sky but did
not see anything. There were no spirits, no orbs, no demons, no lights. I
scanned the darkness for a glimpse of anything that indicated Leighton and I
weren’t the only living – and nonliving – people around. It was just us two,
however. The small haze from my window, which I was positive was my
television, was the only light aside from the
streetlights lining my block within view. I couldn’t help but feel my nerves begin to takeover.
Being alone with Leighton stressed me out because I felt like I was always
walking on pins and needles trying to not seem clueless. Being alone with Leighton at night, and possibly surrounded by other soul hungry demons, was a nightmare.
“My soul is tainted,” I stuttered, “Do you think they would ever come for me again, Leighton?”
He walked towards the back of my car and put his hands down. Again I admired his cut figure.
“No. You aren’t dead, Sage,” he said coldly, “But your also mine.”
My eyes widened and my chest felt like it had literally been kicked in. Every extremity on my body went entirely numb and seemed to weigh a thousand pounds. Leighton had just said I was his. Whether he meant it endearingly, which I doubted, or meant it possessively – both of those options were okay with me. I wanted to throw up from the overwhelming feelings in both the pit of my stomach and my heart. Once it started beating again it fluttered uncontrollably. As if oblivious to the fact that I was dying on my driveway from what he had just said, he continued.
“They could come after you, but it wouldn’t end in their favor.”
The lump in my throat wouldn’t dissolve no matter how many times I tried to swallow it. Leighton patted his hand on the trunk of the car and peeked over his shoulder at me. Did he even realize what he had just said? He must not have by the calmness of his demeanor. I guess claiming people as his own property wasn’t anything new to him.
“You want to do something fun?” He smirked.
He walked over to the passenger side door and leaned over the top of the car. His half smile revealing those sharp canine teeth. Leighton moved his fringe off to the side and tapped his fingers carelessly.
“Lets go for a ride.”
“Oh, okay,” I replied shyly, “Let me grab my keys.”
“Don’t need them, the car is already unlocked.”
Leighton opened the car door and got in. I know for sure I locked my car when I went inside because I always locked my car. Crime wasn’t bad in my area but I still took precautions. Befuddled, I grabbed the handled to the driver’s side door and opened it. Quietly I took my place in the vehicle and shut the door.
“What do we do now?” I stared at the keyless ignition.
Leighton tossed the keys in my lap and leaned back in the seat. I furrowed my brow questioningly.
“We go.” He calmly remarked. “Take me to the Luxor.”
“You mean the giant pyramid on the strip?”
“Do your understand English,” he glared at me irritated, “I want to go to the Luxor.”
That comment stung like sunburns do. If you had of asked me earlier if we had bonded I would have promptly told you yes, but here he was back to being his usual cold self. Leighton’s mood changed more than I did when I was trying to get ready for one of mom’s dinner parties. I started the car and began heading towards the strip.
Once we started getting into town, Leighton initiated conversation with me. This time when he spoke, he was softer, like he knew his harshness earlier had upset me.
“I like the strip, it’s busy.”
“Oh,” I shortly replied, “You’ve been to the strip before?”
I ventured how that would make sense seeing as he’s probably scoured every part of Las Vegas. I’m sure sin city was a hotspot for demons like Leighton. He must have seen all of it by now. Still, his response surprised me.
“I lived here.”
“What?” I said, completely shocked.
“I lived in Vegas when I was alive.”
The glamour of the strip started coming into sight. I sat there with Leighton, mute. He lived in Las Vegas, too. We could have possibly already crossed paths and I didn’t even know it. My mind was boggled that he didn’t think to tell me sooner.
“I didn’t know that.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to.”
I rolled my eyes and paid meticulous attention to the road the rest of the way. If there was one thing Vegas was good at it was being enticing. The casinos were magnificently lit on the strip and the billboards, which were already very eye catching, managed to changed ads every so often. Buildings continued to tower over us as we drove down Las Vegas Blvd. Soon I caught sight of Mandalay Bay, and not far from it, the Luxor.
Searching for a parking space was harder than avoiding Clay. Eventually I saw an open spot on the side in the front near some palm trees. The giant sphinx was dimly lit by the lights that surrounded it on either side. Without pause, Leighton emerged from the car and came around to open my door.
He kindly assisted me out and, like when we roamed the neighborhood, grabbed my hand. Closing my door for me, he led us up the walkway past the intricate, beigey statues and through the palm trees.
“Leighton where are we going,” I stopped him, “Where are you taking me?”
He whirled to look at me and grabbed my other hand. His eyes beckoned me to follow and without question I nudged my wrist towards him in place of an O.K. He smiled quickly before continuing. We must have walked around the building for ten minutes before finally reaching the opposite end where the pools were.
Leighton took me along a grassy area and stopped beside a couple of palm trees. He gazed up at the Luxor, contemplating no doubt, and pulled me towards him. His hand on my shoulder tightly, he whipped his head back down and grinned.
“Do you want to do something fun?”
Confused, I stalled. “What do you mean, Leighton?”
He glimpsed around us making sure nobody else could see us.
“Wait,” I began, “You’re not going to take me to the top of a building and drop me are you?”
He chuckled, “No, not this time. When I really want to kill you I’ll just do it, no need for formalities.”
Shocked, I pouted at him. Leighton pursed his lips and rolled his eyes, breathing harshly out his nose. He opened his arms, extending them towards me. The gesture led me to believe he was suggesting a hug, but uncertain I stood in place, tense.
“You…want to give me a piggy back…ride?” I asked obviously confused.
“Psh,” he spat, “Piggy back ride. That’s childish, Sage. I prefer to call it the straddle saddle.” The look on his face was dead serious.
“Uh – o-oh,” I stuttered anxiously, “You want me to straddle you?”
“That’s the idea behind how this works.”
I sucked in my bottom lip and flexed my fingers with apprehension. It was bad enough that I didn’t know whether Leighton was trustworthy just walking along with me in a residential area, although he didn’t try anything when he had, but whatever he was scheming now made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
He was tempting though, standing there offering – something. My mind started its ritualistic running through every scenario possible of the circumstances. Strangely though, it couldn’t picture any outcome after I straddled him. The only thing it could muster up was him spinning me around like a ride at the fair. Unknowingly, I began laughing softly and sporadically.
“What?” His shoulders shrunk back down and his arms limply fell limply.
I placed my fingers over my mouth in an attempt to cover my smile. The thought of Leighton doing something that required having a goodtime was comical. I turned my head to glance at the pools and let my hair create a veil over my face, moving a few steps away. He scoffed, irritated.
“I’m sorry,” I managed through my laughter, “It was uhm…the straddle saddle.”
“Don’t be jealous just because you lost your imaginative vigor.” He snapped.
I tilted my head towards him, batting my eyelashes. Through laughter that escaped against my will I walked right up to Leighton. He was looking at me strangely, his eyebrow raised. I’d never seen this look cross his face before.
“Are you alright?” I playfully questioned.
He placed his fingertips on his forehead, shaking his head quickly then looking back up at the Luxor. I watched with him as the lights on the top of the building spun around each other before meeting in the middle. The whir of the busy city echoed around us, car horns blasting in the background.
“Have you ever been at the top of the Luxor?” Leighton’s voice was monotonous.
I continued looking at the enormous structure, a slight bit of vertigo setting in.
Tightly shutting my eyes, I sarcastically remarked, “Are you going to take me up there?”
My eyes snapped open as I felt myself being picked up. Leighton had placed my legs on either side of his waist and with one hand was supporting my back. I quietly began hyperventilating while he, calm as ever, once again checked around us to make sure we were alone. Aside from a few people a good ways off walking around the pool area it was just us, hidden away by the corner of the building.
“Leighton,” there was distinct shock in my voice, “What are you going to do? Fly us up there?”
The jaded stare he had perfected met my eyes. His irises appeared to be glowing, almost, a vibrant sea-green color. My arms snugly wrapped around his back and my fingers settled on his shoulders, digging into the shirt he wore.
“I don’t fly,” he smoothly mentioned, “I levitate.”
He leaned his back against the building, my eyes fixated on him still. I wouldn’t have known we were moving at all if it weren’t for my peripheral vision noticing the lights that lined the edges of the Luxor slowing passing by. I glanced down, the palm trees gradually becoming smaller. I gasped fearfully and buried my face in Leighton’s chest. Bemused, Leighton chuckled.
His chest was remarkably firm and defined. The scent that lingered on him wasn’t what I had expected he would smell at all. What I imagined was the potent odor of cigarettes and cigars, the musky fragrance that most casinos held. Instead, relaxing lavender hung on his shirt. I took a big whiff in, feeling his coarse hair under my fingertips while my hand caressed the back of his neck.
“Are you afraid of heights, Sage?”
I peered up from the comfort of his chest, careful to avoid looking anywhere but straight at him. His lips were slightly parted and his eyes jittered back and forth as he looked over me, tiny specs of light reflecting in them. Behind him, a little ways up, was the top of the Luxor. The ungodly vibrant lights practically blinded me. I inhaled a short and wavering breath.
Leighton cast his focus to me. I didn’t doubt that he saw the desperation in my eyes. Reassuring me, he tightened his grip on my waist.
“Look.” He gestured with his head, encouraging me to take indulge in the sight.
Forebodingly, I caved. The sight of Vegas from so high up, outside of an airplane, was mesmerizing. The strip glowed insanely bright in the early morning, the cars headlights blurring into one large, illuminated smudge. I saw the massive, tower like peaks of the Excalibur hotel. The red, yellow, and blue tops appeared a dark purple and bright orange behind the white, multi-windowed hotel that surrounded them. In the distance the Stratosphere loomed above the shining city like a guardian. I saw the huge golden MGM sign on one side and when I turned my head the opposite way I could see the tall standing Mandalay Bay. It looked like a giant glass sheet.
The Eiffel Tower replica that Vegas was home to peeked over the Paris Hotel and I could barely see the top of the blue sphere where Planet Hollywood stood. Everything was strikingly breathtaking and shimmery. Behind the outline of the mountains that encased the desert city was a faint but noticeable sunrise. I felt a beaming smile grace my face, and my heart must have skipped enough beats to kill any normal person.
“Leighton,” I exclaimed, “This is amazing!”
I turned my attention back to Leighton, his hand leaning up against one of the windows that appeared black under the cloak of darkness. He smiled at me, a gentle, seemingly endearing smile. I was overwhelmed with emotions that once again conflicted. The crisp morning air of Vegas felt refreshing and the noise of nearby airplanes filled my ears. Leighton and I tilted our heads slightly to the side and caught a glimpse of an enormous plane, close up, that had just taken flight.
“Do you like it?” His tone was laid back.
What wasn’t there to like? I thought to myself. I had just spent the entire night with Leighton learning valuable information about the world he shares with humans and was lucky enough to get the unbelievable pleasure of seeing Vegas from atop the Luxor. Well – almost the top.
The drive home was surreal. I was elated the entire way and all the colors of the city were neon as we drove past them. Leighton handled the driving while I let the wind whip my long hair every which way as I lifted my head out of the sunroof. A catchy pop tune busted through the speakers of my car and got lost in the breeze that blasted my face and chilled it. It repeatedly mentioned having a perfect body and all I could think of was how coincidental it was that the person chauffeuring me through the breaking daylight fit the description.
Leighton had one hand on the steering wheel, the other on the headrest of the passenger seat. He was reclined in such a position that his lengthy and slender legs had room to stretch slightly. I rejoined him in the warmth of the car, my face flushed from the cold wind hitting my cheeks so fiercely.
He gave a half smile, enough to send my head spinning. The song continued to play on the radio and I couldn’t picture the singer talking about anyone other than Leighton himself. I moved a strand of hair from my face, smiling back at him.
Once we arrived back at the house, he opened my door for me and guided me out. At the door he hand me the keys to the car and we both peeked up at the rising sun. It was hurtfully bright and I receded back into the remaining shade the porch offered.
“That was fun,” I chimed, “I really enjoyed it.”
“I could tell,” he said flatly, “I’m glad you did.”
I awkwardly wiggled from side to side before opening the door a crack and turning to head inside. Leighton raised an eyebrow at me again, like he was superior to my behavior.
“Uh, thanks for tonight, you know – it was nice.” I nodded my head down.
I heard Leighton’s footsteps walk across the driveway and disappointedly I glanced up. He didn’t even say “you’re welcome” or anything, just casually chuckled and decided to walk off. I clutched the keys in my hand and impulsively threw them Leighton’s direction. Without flinching he folded his arm behind his back and caught them.
“You need these to drive, do you not?” He pivoted my way on his heel and tossed them back. “I’ll come and see you soon, try and get some rest.”
The keys had hit my thigh and fallen to the ground. I retrieved them, amazed by Leighton’s precision. He had just disappeared like he always did when I grabbed my keys and looked away for a brief second.
I trudged up to my room with heavy, tired legs. Plopping onto my bed felt like collapsing into a cloud. My body ached from sleep deprivation, but it was all worth it. Downstairs, I heard my mother dropping cookware in the kitchen. I laughed at her clumsiness as my eyes became too weighted to keep open.
I’d see Leighton soon, he said. I would hold him to that.