The arrival of that letter had shaken Marianne to the core. All of her thoughts had flown out of her mind and only when she was back in her room did she feel like herself again. She had brought pizza for Samael and while he was eating, she lay down in bed, staring at the ceiling in silence. He was telling his adventure during his twists and turns, thinking the coffee shop was closed, but she wasn’t really paying attention. She took a glance at the desk and noticed the laptop her father had given her, just sitting there without even touching it. She took it and came back to the bed.

“What is that?” Samael asked, taking his third slice of pizza.

“A machine that knows everything,” Marianne replied as she began to type.

“Really?” He pushed the chair he was sitting on toward the bed and stared at the screen. “You can ask anything and it will respond?”

“You could say so,” she said, opening the browser and typing the word ‘Gerbinkav’. The search produced very few results and only offered brief information about the place, including its location, their type of government —registered as monarchy— and some other figures like its size, which was really small, and the number of residents. It said nothing about its slavery practices, probably because it was a subject they handled with great discretion. She then closed the browser and pushed the computer away, though Samael leaned on the screen for a closer look.

“How do you ask? Is there a protocol?”

“Just write here whatever you want to search and press the button that says ‘enter’, and then you move the pointer to select the results like I do, see?” she explained by moving her finger around the mouse area.

He followed her instructions and she decided to let him have fun with it while she went out for a moment. She supposed her family would be asleep, but going downstairs she heard her father’s voice in the kitchen.

“Yes, I know, it was going to be a weekend, but . . . there were some difficulties. I know, I know, but . . . now is not the time,” he was saying, trying to keep his voice low. “Well, maybe . . . I could go for a couple of days, but no more than that. They need me right now. How much longer? I don’t know, and frankly I can’t think about it. It’s my family after all.”

Marianne remained static against the dining room wall, her muscles tensed. Her hands were closed in a fist and her perception seemed clouded for a while, but a clanking sound made her turn her face and noticed the porcelain from the cabinet next to her had started to vibrate. She was unconsciously causing it. She tried to keep calm so the porcelain would stop stirring, but all she managed to do was send one of her mother’s favorite figurines flying, a horse shaped one, which began to float above her.

She watched it with her nerves on edge, fearing that any movement or any thought might cause it to fall and attract her father’s attention, so she tried to concentrate on the piece to slowly bring it down towards her. Her face began to redden because of the effort, but she couldn’t afford to falter just a few inches away from the object.

“I’ll go for a couple of days only. That’s all I can do for now,” her father continued, distracting her and causing the piece to resume the fall, though fortunately she caught it on the fly. “Well, then so be it. Just one more thing . . . I don’t want to receive any more letters.”

His voice sounded firm and severe, as rarely —if not ever— heard from him. That was the voice of the father they needed, not the pleasing one trying to be their friend. Then she heard footsteps heading to the kitchen door. He was about to get out. She placed the statue on the side of the cabinet without checking if it was well settled, and knowing she wouldn’t have enough time to flee, hid under the table and waited. When he walked out from the kitchen, the figure fell to his feet, forcing him to stop in front of the table and lean over to pick it up.

Marianne stood still, holding her breath as she watched her father’s hand going down to take the porcelain. He picked it up and put it back to the cabinet, standing there for a few seconds before resuming his way.

She heard him going up the stairs, but still didn’t move, just stood there for several minutes, processing the conversation she had just overheard. If she didn’t have the certainty about her father’s double life before, now she had no doubt. She used to think it wouldn’t be a surprise to confirm it, but didn’t imagine the disappointment she felt right then, as if deep down she’d still had hope it was only a suspicion.

It took her a while to go back to her room. Samael was still facing the screen, pressing several keys with an overwhelmed expression on his face.

“Thank god you’re back! Suddenly several images began to jump and they’re still trapped there, but don’t cease to appear. Did I do something wrong?”

“What did you click on? Did a window pop out and you clicked on agree?” she asked while checking the computer, but he didn’t know what to say.

“I just . . . pressed ‘enter’ as you said.”

“Great, you must have accepted some virus, just what I needed,” she concluded, burying her face in the mattress.

“A virus? Is it contagious?” he asked, increasingly distressed, and she raised her face again, giving a breath.

“Don’t worry, it can be solved. I’ll scan it with an antivirus the whole night and that’s it. Just remember next time not to agree on anything coming out on the screen. Moreover, here, take the instructions. I suggest you read it so you’ll know how to use it properly,” she said, giving him a manual while Samael looked at her.

“Are you okay?”

She knew what he meant by that. Perhaps he had read her mind or not, but she was already wearing the indifference mask and wouldn’t take it off.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” she shrugged it off. He stared at her for a few seconds, knowing what was bothering her, but wouldn’t admit it anyway. Normally he wouldn’t insist, but as her guardian angel he had to do something to make her feel better.

“I can read his mind if you want,” he suggested, and Marianne turned to him a little surprised. For a moment she seemed to consider his offer, but after mulling over it, ultimately decided she didn’t want to know who her father was involved with.

“No, I don’t want you to do that. I don’t want to know anything. Besides, I’ve told you it’s not right to hear other people’s thoughts, they’re private.”

“Then tell me how I can help you. I just want you to be okay,” he asked, so concerned that she couldn’t help but smile to reassure him.

“You don’t need to do anything for me, seriously. What I want right now is get some sleep, and you should do the same.”

“Well, if you need me just call me,”

She wasn’t going to change her mind, but at least he had drawn a smile from her.

Once alone, Marianne left the laptop on the desk, scanning for viruses the entire night, and lay down intending to sleep, but her mind repeated again and again the conversation she had heard.

Maybe her mother already knew it and that was the real reason she had decided to leave everything behind. After all, despite her impulsive nature, burning his pictures in an outburst had to be due to something deeper than the accumulation of his constant trips and absences. Perhaps that was why he hadn’t even stopped her. It made sense. Everything was fitting now.

In the morning, she and Loui happened to meet at breakfast. They both seemed to compete for who would finish their cereal first when Noah appeared, seemingly uneasy.

“Good to find you two here, I need to talk to you about something,” he started to say, his hands in his pockets as he restlessly moved his foot. “There was a problem at work and they’re requesting for my presence urgently. I have to go right now. It will only be for a couple of days.”

Marianne wasn’t surprised, but Loui immediately jumped.

“You’re going away? But we need you here! You can’t leave us alone!”

“It will be just a couple of days and I’ll be back as soon as possible.”

“But you promised me we’d go to the movies to see ‘Empire of the Gods’!”

“We can go when I come back.”

“Today’s the last day in theaters!” After saying this, he ran out of the kitchen, leaving his half-finished bowl of cereal on the table and his father looking distraught. Marianne took both bowls and left them in the sink, heading for the door with an eerie quietness.

“I know I don’t have to tell you to take care of Loui. I realize you can take care of yourselves, but I’d feel better if you stay with your uncle Red while I’m out,” Noah proposed when she walked beside him. “I can call him before I leave, and please . . . don’t say anything to your mother. I don’t want her to worry in her condition.”

Marianne directed him a serious yet cold gaze.

“We can handle this, don’t worry. You should go, you wouldn’t want to waste any more time. Have fun on your . . . little trip,” she replied with a small pause, and then continuing on her way.

The rest of the morning she tried to keep busy at school, and thankfully she had her friends to distract her.

“What do you think Demian did with the immigrant?” Lilith asked while heading to the auditorium. The school had finally provided them with basketball uniforms.

“You could ask him when we get to the club.”

“What kind of help would he ask from Lucianne? . . . Do you think there’s something going on between them?”

“I have no idea,” she said, somewhat disconnected.

The basketball team was already inside the auditorium. The coach was still under observation at the hospital, so the boys were practicing on their own as they were used to.

When the girls entered, they started to spread the word until reaching Demian’s ears,. He was at the back of the court and sighed after seeing them at the other end, understanding why his teammates had called him, and approached them.

“So . . . I guess you expect me to be coaching you again.”

“I’m sorry, are you upset?” asked Lilith, pouting to make him change his face and he looked at her, serious at first, but his expression softened and smiled.

“You don’t have to help us, you know? Don’t do it just because you find yourself forced to,” Marianne said with a defiant attitude. Demian’s slight smile faded and he stared at her, but said nothing, just took the ball from under his arm, spun it on his index finger and threw it at her, who managed to catch it in time.

“10 laps around the court, bouncing the ball.”


“15 laps,” he corrected, crossing his arms without adding anything else.

Marianne looked stunned at him, and Lilith just watched in silence, afraid to say anything that might earn her a set of laps.

“If you’re doing it as retaliation, I find it very childish of you.”

“Think what you want. It’s 20 laps now,” Demian added, unfazed.

“That’s not fair, you can’t . . . !”

“The time you use to complain, you might as well use it to start running. Less complaining, more action. Now!” he firmly ordered and Marianne clenched her teeth, but held the urge to retort and started running around the court, bouncing the ball as he said. Lilith looked at him fearfully.

“. . . I don’t know if I should be afraid now.”

Demian took another ball and threw it to her with a smile.

“You’ll practice with me.”

“Perfect!” she said with relief.

Kristania came in with the plastered nose, flanked by her minion-friends. She had a paper with her and handed it to Demian without a word. She tried to look determined and dignified.

“A doctor’s note,” he said after seeing the paper, feeling remorseful once again. “I . . . I’m sorry.”

Kristania tried to keep her pride, but once she listened to his apology, all that dignity went overboard and she pulled out a device that consisted of a screen and a small keyboard. Then she started to type on it and turned the screen to show him what she had written.

«Doesn’t matter, it could’ve happen to anyone, but thanks.

You’re so cute!»

Demian tried to show a polite smile that ended in a grimace.

“Well . . . let’s go on. You two take a ball and practice like the last time,” he said to Kristania’s minions while she went after him, typing something more on her device.

«Can I stay? I love watching you play!»

He breathed deeply, closing his eyes momentarily, when a stomp on his left foot made him react. He winced in pain and saw Marianne getting past him after her first lap.

“Oops, didn’t see you, sorry.”

“I guess that makes you very mature! 25 laps!”

She stopped, holding the ball, and gave him a murderous glare. Demian thought she would throw the ball at his face, but instead she bounced it again and continued her way through the court borders. Kristania typed something again quickly.

«She’s a social outcast»

He just rolled his eyes and returned to Lilith, briefly looking at Marianne, who was already at the other extreme.

“What a jerk!” Marianne cried furiously as soon as they went out of the auditorium.

“He really got you this time, huh?” Lilith replied, without holding her laughter.

“He started it! I just responded!”

Angie appeared down the hall, making a full stop in front of them, holding her chest and panting, but not even that erased her smile.

“I was invited to join the official school’s track team!” she announced with excitement. “They say I have one of the best times! If I continue like this I might be even chosen for the next interstate games!”

“That’s great! And you said you couldn’t do a thing. Will you finally tell your dad?”

“Tell him? I can’t, he would just worry. Besides . . . he wouldn’t allow me to participate. He doesn’t even know I joined the club,” she said. According to what she’d told them, her condition was congenital, her father also had a heart condition and had to avoid every kind of intense motion. Years ago he had suffered a heart attack and since then a pacemaker kept him controlled, but still had to be checked constantly, just like her. He was extremely protective of her because of that.

“Well, you’ll have to figure out a way to tell him at some point, because you can’t hide it from him forever,” Lilith advised, heading to their classroom.

“I suppose. But I don’t know how to do it,” she answered, going from emotional to distressed. Marianne chose not to comment upon that, she didn’t want to hear anything about parents.

“Belgina’s not out of the lab yet?” she radically changed the subject. They saw her then coming with a frozen puzzled expression, like she had seen a ghost. “Did something happen? Are you feeling all right?”

“N-Nothing. Just . . . let’s get out of here,” she said, taking her belongings and leaving the room. The girls only shrugged and followed her out.

“Don’t you think it’s a little strange that there hasn’t been any attack lately? At least that we know of,” said Lilith, while going through their usual route to the coffee shop.

“The new demon is more intimidating than the last one and it seems so . . . in control.”

“He must be planning something,” Marianne added. “We can’t let our guard down. We should follow Sam . . . muel’s advice.” About to call him by his name, she corrected just in time. “And we should search for a secret place where we can prepare ourselves a little better. We shouldn’t settle for the clubs training.”

“Do you think he could teach us how to become invisible as he does? The things I would do with that skill! I would come to the staff room, take the tests and finally have a decent grade for the first time in my life!” Lilith said, smiling at the thought.

“Leaving aside the cheating . . . I don’t think it works that way,” explained Marianne. “I mean, you can manipulate fire, but no one else can. I think everyone has a skill that others don’t. Perhaps the invisibility only works with him. Just like Belgina and the wind or Angie and . . . uhm . . . ” The raspberry-haired girl looked at her expectantly, but she didn’t seem to find a suitable word to describe what she did, in fact, she still didn’t know exactly what her skill was. Not to mention the use of it. She couldn’t say anything and it mortified her. “ . . . Emotions?”

“That’s what you think my skill is? Emotions?” asked Angie, and Marianne wasn’t sure how to answer that.

“Well, it’s not like you’ve had much chance to show what you can do, right? I guess you’ll do it later,” Lilith said like it wasn’t a big deal.

Angie just nodded, somewhat discouraged. Deep inside she recognized they were right, but she didn’t even know herself what she could do. She started to think that what had happened with Ashelow was a fluke and wasn’t sure if she could repeat it.

“Maybe . . . if Samuel helps us, we could learn to control ourselves better,” Belgina suggested, trying to sound normal.

“And then who knows! We might end up flying! Can you imagine?” said Lilith, opening the coffee shop’s door.

Marianne stopped before entering. She didn’t want to see Demian’s face after their clash at the auditorium. Right now, he was once again the guy who had run over her.

“I better go home,” she decided, intending to turn around and leave, but Lilith stopped her and pushed her forward.

“Don’t be such a baby. Get inside!”

Demian was already settling some glasses behind the counter and as soon as she came in, he gave her a stern look, so she squinted and looked away with disdain. He responded with a frown and turned to the kitchen.

“You hate each other again?” asked Belgina.

“Ha, you should have seen them! He made her do 25 laps around the auditorium bouncing the ball, all the while she threw it at him and kicked his leg every time she passed near him, it was so much fun!” Lilith laughed as they sat at the table.

“Seriously, it’s good to have you as my friend. I don’t want to imagine if you didn’t like me,” Marianne said, glaring reproachfully at her while Lilith winked with red cheeks from laughter.

“Are you going to order?”

Marianne clenched her fists, trying not to talk, but anger overcame her.

“Another waiter for me!” she yelled impetuously, but soon realized it wasn’t Demian when she turned. Not even the other waiter. She didn’t remember having seen this guy before, or at least she thought that at first glance. Something about him looked familiar, but couldn’t specifically pinpoint what. The other girls also looked at him with curiosity while he gasped like he’d been holding his breath.

“Why do you yell at me?” he asked with fraying nerves, holding the note pad in front of him like a shield.

“I’m—I’m sorry . . . I thought . . . Who are you?”

“Are you new? We have never seen you around, do you have a girlfriend?” Lilith asked, smiling and shaking her head to flip her untamed hair, which fell over her shoulders.

Marianne only gave her a scolding look, but she just stuck her tongue out, leaning her arm on the table and then resting her chin on her palm in a flirtatious pose.

“Don’t you recognize me?” he asked and they looked confused at each other, trying to recall where they had seen him before until Marianne finally seemed to remember.

“The immigrant!” she said out loud and the boy beckoned her to lower her voice while glancing nervously around, hoping no one had heard it.

“Really? You’re the same guy from yesterday?” Lilith asked, surprised, and with good reason, for he looked like a completely different person. He had cut his tangled ashy hair that reached almost to his knees and was now short. His skin was tanned and his eyes, dark hazel. His clothing was simple, denim jeans and a white shirt, but it gave him a neat appearance, compared with the previous day. “You look so different! You don’t look like a ragged and scruffy hobo anymore!”

“Lilith!” Belgina muttered at her lack of tact.

“Yeah, well . . . I admit I wasn’t at my best,” the boy accepted, feeling ashamed.

“How did you end up working here?” asked Marianne, trying to amend her first reaction.

“Thanks to Demian. I don’t know what kind of deal he made with the owner, but it’s because of him I’m here right now. They even let me stay in the room downstairs,” he replied with a gesture of gratitude.

“Demian saved the day!” Lilith added while Marianne just let out a snort. “While on the subject, we haven’t even been officially introduced. What’s your name?”

“Uhm . . . I don’t know if you’d be able to pronounce it right, but it’s Mankeehesham,” he answered warily, and noticing their faces, tried to make it easy for them. “ . . . But you can call me Mankee.”

“Oh, like the monkeys!” said Lilith and he tried to correct her, but she had already started to talk again. “I’m Lilith, and they’re Angie, Belgina and Marianne. You better know us because you will see us a lot around here and we like to be well-assisted.”

“Uhm . . . yeah, speaking of that, what are you going to order?” said the boy, trying to get back to the point and do his job.

“I’m glad you asked, because I’m starving, I hope you’re a fast writer.” She snapped her fingers and inhaled deeply. “A double burger with bacon, mushrooms, add pineapple and barbecue to the mix, French fries, a stuffed beef and a cheese burrito, an order of waffles with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate chips and finally a lemon pie. Oh, and a light soda, I have to keep the line! Your turn, girls.”

He could barely wrote it down, exhausted and gobsmacked. He couldn’t believe a single person would be able to eat that amount of food, though the girls seemed unimpressed.

Meanwhile, Demian went out of the kitchen again and returned to the counter. He occasionally glanced at the new boy to make sure he was doing well and peered briefly at the girls. He didn’t plan to approach them this time, his ankle still hurt after Marianne had kicked him at every lap she did around the court, with some silly excuse like she had tripped or hadn’t seen him. She was definitely the immature one, not him.

Mitchell then came in bursting with confidence, walking as if he owned the place and waving as a well-regarded lord. He walked past the girls and nodded towards Belgina, winking with a perfectly drawn smile across his face, causing her to redden and avert her gaze. They were still deciding what to order.

“What’s up, my friend? Don’t you think life is beautiful when things go as desired?”

“I’m going to assume you’re happy about something, and knowing you I guess it’s something I don’t want to know, so I won’t ask.”

Mitchell let out a loud laugh and patted him on the shoulder.

“Someday you’ll be in the same situation and I’ll be there to listen at you like the good friend I am. But for now, excuse me, I’m in the mood for a round,” he announced, rubbing his hands and heading to the kitchen, but Demian stopped him by the collar of his shirt and forced him back to his seat in one go.

“You can’t go down, it’s not a playroom anymore, it’s his room now,” he said, pointing to the boy taking orders at the girls table.

“What? Who is that? Where did he come from? Why can he go down there and I can’t?” he questioned with a resentful look.

“Just because. I can’t tell you in public, but he works here now.”

“Wait a minute . . . Is he by any chance . . . the immi—?”

“Shhhhh!” Demian shut him up before he could complete the word.

“He looks different, not like the psychopath who threatened me to death yesterday.”

“Lucianne helped by cutting his hair and I brought him some clothes.”

“Oh, Lucianne, huh?” said Mitchell raising his eyebrows with an amused smile. Demian rolled his eyes knowing what he’d be thinking at that moment, but he wasn’t willing to play along.

“No one else knows about him and how he got here. You must keep the secret, okay?”

“Sure, of course. Although it would be easier if I could have unlimited access to some underground place upholstered with comics and videogames,” Mitchell said, giving him a sly look, realizing he could take advantage of that information.

“You have no shame.”

“Hey, I was there before him, I deserve some special treatment,” he justified without erasing his nimble expression.

The door bell announced someone’s arrival and they turned to see Samael at the entrance. This time he didn’t even stop to take a look at the place, he knew exactly where to go. He walked towards the girls’ table with a lanky air to him and after greeting them with a smile, he leaned on the table and got closer to Marianne’s ear to tell her something.

“Just look at him, so poised and so . . . blond,” Mitchell said, flinching at the thought. “He looks so calm and cool, probably enjoying the attention. Seriously, what do they see in him? Is that what girls like? Androgynous pretty boys? Idon’t see him as her type.”

Demian pulled himself away from the counter with a snap, and immediately walked into the kitchen without saying anything. Mitchell looked confused at him, trying to think if he had said something wrong, even after the previous little blackmail from minutes ago.

“Listen, I gotta go. Something unexpected happened,” said Marianne after listening to Samael. “See you tomorrow, okay?”

“Did something bad happen? Can we help?”

“No, I just . . . I have to go home. I’ll leave you with Samuel. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

“Don’t you want me to come?” he asked, willing to go with her.

“It’s not necessary. See you later,” she finished, taking her backpack and giving her seat to him.

“Good thing you’re staying here, we have some questions for you,” said Lilith, intertwining her fingers with a sober gesture. Surely a flood of questions would come now, so he sighed and prepared mentally for the onslaught, reminding himself to not give too many details. He should have gone with Marianne even if she refused, but it was too late to do so. She could be quick when she wanted.

Marianne got home in a matter of minutes. She left the key in the lock and stood in the middle of the hall, taking a quick look around until her gaze fell on the living room.

Her brother was on the couch lying face down, motionless. She dropped her bag on the floor and went to shake him up.

“Loui . . . Loui! Wake up!”

He lifted his face with bloodshot eyes. He seemed to have been taking a nap.

“What are you doing here? I thought you were out. I heard the door closing.”

“Were you crying?” Marianne asked directly. He looked at her indignantly at first, but soon looked ashamed.

“No, of course not! I was just sleeping, that’s it!” Loui said, determined not to admit it. She just swayed her head, but didn’t insist. She was worried though, about how sorely disappointed he looked. Until then he had raised his father on a pedestal and the abrupt way he had reacted to his departure was by far unexpected to her.

“Well, have you eaten already?” she asked again, trying not to pressure him, after all, he could be just as stubborn as her.

“I’m not hungry,” he replied, puffing his cheeks and frowning.

She wasn’t exactly the perfect sister, in fact, they often ended up fighting because of her bad temper and his impertinence, but considering the situation, she thought to put aside her pride and try to cheer him up, even if it was in her own terms.

“Well, if you’re so eager to watch this movie, why don’t you just go?”

“I won’t go by myself, it’s embarrassing!”

“Go with a friend then!” she suggested and Loui remained in silence, avoiding her gaze, as though he wanted to avoid the topic altogether. “You do have friends, right?” He just crooked his mouth, refusing to answer, but she understood immediately what his ashamed look conveyed. “Are you serious? You haven’t made any friends at school?”

“It’s so difficult! I’m always the first one to finish homework and tests. They see me like some kind of freak and even if I try, they don’t let me in . . . Why do you think I’m always home watching TV or playing videogames? You know how it is, you didn’t have any friends back at your old school!”

“Ouch, that was an unnecessary low blow.” Loui leaned back on the couch with folded arms, regretting having even talked about it.

“Forget it, why would you care now that you have friends?”

Marianne watched him, internally debating about what to do, until she finally sighed with resignation.

“Go get your jacket, we’re going to the movies,” she ordered, walking towards the hall and picking up her backpack. Loui reacted surprised, with this especially coming from her.

“But it’s at night.”

“Well, then we’ll eat something, go see mom and then go to the movies, but do as I say. I’m not going to repeat it twice,” she said firmly, pulling the keys from the lock and going upstairs. It was going to be a long day for her.

They didn’t even agree on what to say to their mother, but as soon as Marianne lied about their father being home trying to fix a broken plumb, Loui seconded her immediately. It was the first time they had shared something without some sort of previous agreement, as an implicit agreement.

“And then, to stop him from taking over the world, Ahura decides to send his troops of daevas led by Samandar against Ahriman, but what Samandar doesn’t know is that the reason they’ve sent him is because he carries within the seed of Spenta, which upon contact with Ahriman, being its opposite, would create a wave of destructive energy that could eradicate the entire human kind in some sort of extreme purification undercover operation,” said Loui with renewed excitement as they walked towards the theater. “If the movie is as good as the game, it will be epic! I’ll only need a ‘Shadow Detective’ movie next and my life will be complete!”

“Sounds fascinating,” said Marianne with lack of interest.

The movie theater was located right inside the most important city mall. Marianne’s intention was to go straight to the theater to end her commitment the sooner the better, but Loui stood in front of the candy store row and watched the glass cases almost drooling. She could foresee what would happen next, and given that her mother usually forbade him to eat sweets, he wouldn’t miss his chance to do it behind her back.

“I want soda and candy!”

“I said we’d go to the movies, don’t push it too far.”

“The movies experience isn’t complete at all WITHOUT soda and candy,” Loui insisted, crossing his arms to show that he was willing to make a scene if he didn’t get his way. He was back at being the same nagging kid as usual.

Marianne grumbled, but ultimately decided to avoid confrontation and let it go. She sent him to take their seats while she got in line and waited patiently for her turn. She recalled still having her father’s credit card so she thought of a way to punish him by overbuying sweets. It wasn’t that much, but at least that would make them forget everything for a moment.

“Give me a large caramel popcorn, a bag of jelly beans, also I want two . . . no, four of those chocolate bars, nachos with lots of cheese, a packet of peanuts and two jumbo sodas, please,” Marianne asked just reaching the counter and while waiting for her order, she began drumming her fingers impatiently.

“Could you give me two sodas and popcorn, please?” said a voice close that sounded familiar. She turned her face, wishing it wasn’t who she thought it was, but when she met those blue eyes, her face changed as well as his.

“I can’t believe my luck,” she said, adopting a rigid posture.

Demian seemed to regain his poise and took a deep breath.

“Apparently, we both share the same luck.”

“I hope you’re not with Mitchell, I’m not in the mood to stand him too.”

“Actually, no. I didn’t come with him,” Demian said, waiting for his order to walk away.

Marianne huffed and decided she’d better attend to her order too. He sneaked a look at her and his eyebrows twisted at all that candy.

“Isn’t that a little too much for you two?”

She turned as if she weren’t expecting him to talk again.

“You’d be surprised of everything we’re capable of eating,” she said dryly, taking some popcorn and tucking it into her mouth.

“Well, at least you have something in common then,” he said in a slightly indifferent tone and she looked addled at him. “So . . . how long have you been together?”

“Well, I guess like eleven years. Seriously, what kind of question is that?” she responded raising an eyebrow.

“Eleven years? Wow, how old are you?” Demian asked once again, trying to detect if she was joking or being serious.

“What are these questions? How old are you? Does it matter?”

“I guess not, I was just trying to be polite here and make conversation, but I guess you’re in a hurry to get back to your boyfriend, so I won’t interrupt anymore,” he said, thus concluding the talk and taking the tray with his order.

“Wait . . . what?” He was already walking away, so she also took her tray, brimming with all kinds of candy, and stood in front of him, trying to keep her balance. “What did you just say?” Demian stopped, careful not to bump into her and stared back at her sullenly. “It was Mitchell, right? Ugh, that idiot! How dare he twist everything rather than dealing with rejection!”

“Does that mean . . . ?”

 “Hey! Did I hear my name?”

Mitchell appeared suddenly beside them as though summoned by magic.

“You said you didn’t come with him!” Marianne muttered with a puff.

“I didn’t!” Demian insisted, just as confused as her.

“What a surprise to find you here! Did you just come . . . ?” said Mitchell, pointing from one to another, surprised to see them together.

“No!” they both yelled at the same time.

“Okay, no need to shout. I was about to complain after the stunt you pulled with the blond guy. But I heard you told a different story to your friends.”

Marianne took a deep breath, and glared at him, as if about to breath fire through her nose.

“Well, doesn’t matter! I think I finally found the one, anyway,” Mitchell said, moving away and pointing with his gaze towards the theater door. There was Belgina, staring absently around.

“Belgina?” Marianne gasped agape while Mitchell smiled triumphantly.

“Anyway, boyfriend, cousin, childhood friend or whatever, doesn’t matter anymore so . . . thanks again for your rejection,” he finished with a wink and heading towards Belgina.

The bespectacled girl gave a slight jolt when he joined her, and after saying something to her, she turned to Marianne with a frightened face, but before she could do anything about it, Mitchell took her arm and led her inside the movie theater.

“I can’t believe it,” she said, shaking her head.

“Hey! What is taking you so long? The movie’s about to start!” Loui appeared next to her with an impatient gesture, scanning the contents of the tray. “Where are the chips? You always forget something!”

“If you want them so much, go buy them! I’ve done enough so far!” she replied with a stomp that drove her out of balance momentarily. Loui then showed his hand as a sign of asking for money, just as they did with their mother, so she let out a groan. “Do you mind? My hands are busy!”

“Here, this should be enough,” Demian intervened, holding his own tray with one hand and taking cash from his pocket with the other one. He looked at him distrustfully, but then took the money, starting to wave it in front of Marianne’s face.

“Thank you, stranger!” he said, running to the candy store.

“Why did you give him money?”

“Is that your brother?”

“How perceptive, Sherlock,” she replied sarcastically.

“So, you came with him.”

“Who did you think I came with?”

He just shrugged and looked at his watch before retaking his tray with both hands. She rolled her eyes, jaded, and tried to settle her own tray between her arms to make it steady.

“Oh! And just to be clear: NO, Samuel is not my boyfriend. Mitchell misinterpreted everything to his convenience. Although if I had known he would stalk Belgina now, I would have handled it differently.”

“I think she’s old enough to decide who she goes out with. Let her make her own mistakes, she’ll notice if she’s wrong.”

“I guess you say that from experience, but I highly doubt you’re proud of your own mistake with a K.”

He looked confused at her, but didn’t get to ask as Loui returned with a huge bag of chips.

“Done! Now to the theater, I heard the trailers just began.”

“Wait! At least help me out with some of these!” Marianne turned around carefully, the tray shaking at each step, and just when she thought it was about to fall at any moment, Demian lifted it with one hand, taking both trays with him. She couldn’t help but look surprised at him.

“Don’t worry. I’ll give it back as soon as you find a seat,” he explained as they got into the theater. She didn’t know what to think of that, and then saw Loui waving his arms from the middle row. As she approached, she noticed Lucianne was next to him, greeting her with a smile.

“What are you doing here?” she asked and Marianne was about to respond when Demian handed her one of the trays.

“Here you go, no butter just like you asked.”

“Thank you! What a coincidence to meet you here! Did you know Belgina came too? I think I think she sat on the other end, but she didn’t see me, she seemed distracted.”

“I suppose you two came together,” Marianne deduced, looking at both of them.

Her cousin smiled and blushed while Demian kept quiet and just gave her the tray to then go sit next to Lucianne.

“Gimme, gimme!” said Loui, taking one of the sodas and the popcorn.

She sighed and sat next to him, tucking the tray between the arms of the seats, but she no longer felt like eating sweets, just wanted the movie to be over and go back home soon.

She thought it so much that when least expected the movie was already over. Like she had just blinked for a second at the title and suddenly the end credits had already begun to roll.

“That was awesome! I wanna watch it again! Roll it back!” Loui shouted, jumping from his chair, landing on the floor and starting to run through the aisles where all the people were already gathering towards the exit.

“Loui, come back right now! Have you gone insane or what?”

“Did you let him eat all those candy?” Lucianne asked and she looked at the tray noticing it was all empty even though she hadn’t taken anything. “You’ve given him fuel for the entire night.”

“Get down from there right now!” Marianne shouted after seeing he was starting to climb the stage where the screen stood.

“I’ll go get him,” said Demian, getting out of the row and going down all along the aisle.

“I guess you don’t have any sleeping pill in your purse by any chance, do you?” Marianne asked, feeling her temples throbbing.

Lucianne had a flashback of herself making powder from some pills, scattering it over a glass of juice and passing it through the gap of the door for his father to take it and keep him asleep most of the day. She felt an instant twinge of remorse for what she had to do to keep him controlled.

“I’m sorry,” she replied while Demian carried Loui like a bundle, back to them as the kid stirred, fidgety.

“It’s been an awesome day! The movie was worth it! I don’t even care anymore if dad left us!”

Marianne went mute and looked at Demian and Lucianne, intending to deny it, but no words came out of her mouth. Overwhelmed, she bit her lip and took Loui’s wrist.

“Time to go! Walk!” she commanded, pulling him out of there. The theater was almost empty, but at each step, Loui seemed to put up more resistance, making it difficult to move forward. “Come on! Don’t be such a burden!”

They were just a few steps from the exit when he stopped completely, rested his free hand on one of the seats and after stooping behind the back, he threw up everything he ate that night.

Marianne stood still, looking horrified at him and thinking the day had officially reached the pinnacle of the worst, being that moment the icing on the cake, and given the circumstances, it seemed that it was the only thing missing in that puddle.

Lucianne and Demian exchanged glances as if they were thinking the same thing.

He wasn’t allowed to drive yet, so there was a driver taking them home. Demian was in the passenger seat this time while Lucianne was with Marianne and Loui in the back seat.

The kid had already fallen asleep, tossing his head with his eyes closed while the car was heading towards their house. Marianne kept staring at the window, watching the road in complete silence. She couldn’t bear the thought that someone would know their situation, it made her feel vulnerable.

The only one she couldn’t hide it from was Samael for obvious reasons, and yet she chose not to speak about it with him.

As the car parked in front of the house, Demian helped carry Loui inside while Marianne got out from the car with arms crossed.

“I left him on the living room couch,” said Demian.

“Well, at least you won’t have to worry about him being up all night,” said Lucianne, trying to lighten the mood, but her cousin didn’t answer. “Do you want me to stay with you tonight?”

“There’s no need, we’ll be fine. Thanks for the ride . . . and sorry for ruining your date.”

“Don’t worry, it wasn’t a date! We just . . . went out as friends,” Lucianne clarified immediately, but couldn’t help blushing. Marianne just nodded, going straight to her door while the two of them followed her with their gazes.

Once inside, she glanced out the window and got to see them getting back into the car. Despite Lucianne’s denial, she was under the impression that something might be happening between them. It wouldn’t be so farfetched actually, if anyone saw them together. They seemed perfect for each other.

She grasped the curtain and her hand began to slide on it. She was so distracted she didn’t hear any sounds behind her, so she winced when a hand lay on her shoulder.

“Relax, it’s me,” Samael whispered. She sighed, relieved, and glanced towards her brother to make sure he was still asleep. “I was worried, did you go somewhere?”

“We just went out. It took us a little longer than I expected,” she replied. “I have to bring Loui to his bed, would you help me? He’s completely knocked out, I don’t think he’ll notice anything.”

Samael agreed and between the two of them gently grabbed his limbs and took him upstairs very carefully. The kid had run out of energy so he didn’t even seem to notice he was already home. They tucked him into his bed and immediately got out of there, closing the door softly.

“Sorry I left you alone. I hope they didn’t overwhelm you with questions.”

“There were a few,” he admitted with a sigh. “But I think I could elude some that I couldn’t answer without revealing . . . stuff.”

“What kind of stuff? The ones I already know or the ones you haven’t told me yet?” she asked with a squint.

Samael kept quiet, knowing that no matter what he answered, he would fall into her trap, so he just cleared his throat and looked away.

An intense feeling of anxiety seized him then, like a ton of compressed air exerting pressure on his head. He started to hear distant voices that were not there. Screams. He leaned on the wall, taking a hand to his forehead.

“Samael? Are you okay?”

He didn’t answer. As soon as his eyes closed, it was like looking through a dark veil of night vision, projecting fragments of an attack in an unknown place, but one thing was for sure: it was real. He knew it as soon as he managed to recognize Hollow in the projection running in his mind. It was happening at that very moment and he had no idea how to stop it.

Marianne looked at him, alarmed. She didn’t know what was going on. She tried to hold his shoulders, but he grabbed her hand and instantly transmitted the same vision to her. The foggy effect didn’t prevent those red eyes from popping up in her mind. She pulled back instantly, panting heavily. What she had just seen?

“What was that? How is that . . . ?”

Samael opened his eyes, and even though he kept seeing those images, he could also see her through the veil.

“He’s attacking . . . We must stop him . . . ”

“But how? We don’t even know where it is! It could be close, it could be in another country or across the world! How could we . . . ?”

At that moment, Samael disappeared in a flash of light. She remained silent, thinking he could simply have become invisible, so she started reaching at the air, believing she could find him that way, however there was no one else but her.

Her angel was gone.