It had been hours since Samael vanished without a trace and Marianne stayed awake, sitting on her bed with the light on just in case he returned. She still couldn’t understand what she’d seen, and even less what had happened to him.

Her day had gotten from bad to worse since she saw that letter for her father and it didn’t seem to end. She felt tired, but couldn’t afford to sleep, the angel could appear at any given moment, she hoped. But as the minutes went by, she heard only the ticking clock, and sleep threatened to overcome her, so she decided to take a tour around the house and take something to stay awake, like maybe coffee.

She stepped into the hall and stretched her arms as she was walking through any empty space, in case she ran into him. Before going downstairs, she checked on Loui and also went through his room, groping the air. Every time she went through any part of the house, she repeated that action. Finally, she ended up back in the attic, with a cup of coffee in her hands, and sat on the cot as she watched how neat Samael had left the place. It no longer seemed like the attic where they kept the old furniture. It was unrecognizable.

“Where are you?” she said aloud, sipping her coffee the way her father did, scanning the place with her eyes and trying to see if there was any change. Several of the boxes that had been cast aside decorated the walls now, pinned in a way that the upper parts faced sideways to be used as shelves. There were currently objects inside them and ornaments they had found packaged for years. There were also several loose closet doors that he had managed to join as folding screens and now surrounded the area where the mattress was in such a manner that it could be shut and give him time to hide or disappear in case someone who wasn’t Marianne came to the attic.

The walls themselves were made of upholstered planks to give it a rustic appearance, but Samael had managed to make a slight change on one of the corners where he had ripped some of the planks and after placing a closet over there —a little old but functional— he upholstered it again with the planks to mimic the walls so it looked like an extension of them at first glance. There he kept the clothes she gave to him. He had even organized several books found in one of the trunks, placing them in the nearest box-shelf to the mattress. Just above it was the manual she had given to him.

She took another sip of her coffee, but it was starting to cool so she settled the cup on the trunk at the end of the mattress. The caffeine wasn’t having much effect anyway and she was falling asleep already. She took one of the books and tried to read it, but as she turned the pages, she kept seeing in her mind those images through the veil that Samael had passed on her with a single touch. Soon they took over her mind, to the extent that she saw something she didn’t recall from earlier: it was Samael himself in that unfamiliar place facing Hollow, who wounded him and left him for dead. She wanted to call him, but it was too far away. There was nothing she could do to help him. She tried to reach at him, despite knowing it couldn’t be real.

He was also looking back at her through the veil, it seemed. He stretched his arm, but couldn’t reach her. It had to be a projection from her mind. Even when she managed to take his hand, it didn’t feel real. It was right then that she heard a loud thump on the floor.

She immediately opened her eyes and through the skylight in the ceiling she realized it was already dawn. She didn’t remember what time she had fallen asleep, but right now she was more worried about the thud that had awakened her. She looked down and was surprised to see Samael on the floor, one hand resting on the ground. He tried to stand up, with his other hand clutched to the front. Part of his clothes was torn and he was panting, arching his back in a pronounced way. A few drops of blood fell from his head to the floor. Realizing it wasn’t a dream, she knelt beside him and took his shoulder, making him start.

“Marianne,” he muttered, his breath slowly normalizing. Blood trickled down his forehead, staining his pristine skin and hair, contrasting with the iridescent halo emanating from him. It seemed inconceivable to see a wounded angel.

“What happened? Where did you go?”

“The images. The vision where someone was attacked. It was real, it was happening. You saw it too, right? When I took your hand . . . ”

“But where were you? I was worried!”

“I was there.”

“But . . . how?”

“I just thought I had to get to that place, even not knowing where it was. I wanted to be there . . . and then it just happened. The vision through the veil became clear, crisp, and it wasn’t you in front of me anymore but Hollow. He thought I was just a bystander. He left me for dead. I don’t know how long it was, I had no idea how to get back and then I saw you through the veil again. You brought me back.”

“I don’t know . . . what really happened,” she stammered, too astounded. Samael tried to sit up using his hand as a lever.

“We have to get back there.”

“Are you crazy? Have you seen yourself? You have to heal your wounds, and besides— ” He pulled out his clutched hand and showed the turned off orb he was holding tight. “Is that . . . ?”

“It’s the gift from the man he was attacking. He shattered it as before. I waited until he was gone to restore it, but I couldn’t get it back to him. You’re the only one who can.”

“But how are we supposed to go? You said it yourself, you didn’t know where that place was, how are you planning to go back? And above all, how am I supposed to go? You’re forgetting that you’re the angel, not me, and also it’s almost time to go to school, and—”

Samael didn’t wait for her to finish talking. He just grabbed her by the wrist and they both disappeared with a flash. In a blink, they found themselves in the mid of a dark alley, barely lit by a street lamp. Marianne looked around, dumbfounded. It was the place she remembered from the blurred vision. It was real.

“Come! He’s over here!” said Samael, taking her to the end of the alley.

Lying among garbage bags was a boy dressed in what looked like a wardrobe made of leather, from the tip of the boots to the ribbons around his neck, with long tousled black hair below his shoulders and even some shade in his eyes. There was something in his appearance that looked oddly familiar.

A few feet away there was a guitar case, so she assumed he was a musician. He actually had all the look of a rock star.

She approached the body while Samael handed her the sphere so she could return it to him, and as she followed the usual procedure, she looked at his face, trying to figure out where she had seen him before.

“Hey, I think I recognize him,” she said after giving back his gift. “Lilith has a lot of stuff with his face. I think he’s a famous singer. Lissen Rox or something like that. She talks about him all the time.”

“A singer, then. Maybe Hollow was looking for the Artistic gift in that case,” he deduced with a thoughtful gesture while Marianne looked around, fixing her gaze on a door in the back.

“Maybe that’s where he rehearses. Do you think he may have attacked more people?”

“No, I only saw him attacking this guy.”

“Who are you?” the boy suddenly asked, regaining consciousness.

He had his eyes narrowed as slits, so chances were that he couldn’t see them clearly, but their first impulse was to invoke their armor so he wouldn’t identify them.

“Are you . . . androids or something?”

“Let’s go,” said Marianne, pulling Samael away. “We should go back, hurry up.”

“Wait, I must concentrate on the place, you should do the same too,” he said, closing his eyes tightly and frowning. “Don’t let go of me at any time.”

Marianne nodded, grabbing his arm while the leather-clad guy got up on his feet with his body trembling.

“Are you angels? Demons? What are you?” the singer kept on asking, but they didn’t respond. Within seconds, they disappeared amid a scintillation that left the singer stunned. It was just a blink for them, going from the dirty alley where they had been seconds earlier and back to the attic. Their armors retracted, and Marianne took a quick look at the place to make sure they were truly back. Camouflage tables, folding screen-doors, boxes-shelves: everything was as they left it.

She then turned to Samael who had sat on the floor and was touching his wounded forehead, looking curiously at the blood drenching his hand. She kneeled in front of him and began to check his injury. There was a deep cut on his hairline and some bruises, but it didn’t look serious.

“Does it hurt?” she asked as she took a rag from one of the nearest trunks and wiped the blood with it.

“Not right now, but I felt the cut. It’s weird, after the impact I suddenly froze and my body just didn’t respond.”

“It’s because of the shock. In fact, it’s so odd to see you hurt. I thought that being an angel and all you were exempt from it.”

“Not since I have a physical body. Now I’m subjected to the same conditions as any of you.”

“So you’re practically human.”

“Hmmm, not exactly. Like I said it’s just something physical. Even if I can get hurt now and feel pain, my origin remains celestial,” he explained while Marianne finished cleaning his wound, though he kept bleeding.

“Can’t you heal yourself?”

“Oh, right! I was forgetting that!” He took his hand to his forehead, touching it to feel the wound and trying to cover it in its entirety. He then closed his eyes, and his palm began to emit a warm glow that slowly decreased back to its natural shine. By moving his hand away, they saw that the wound had completely vanished. “Done. As good as new.”

Marianne looked at him more closely. His skin was smooth, unmarked, and only a few bloodstains on his hair and shirt remained.

“You said you can feel pain now . . . what if you were seriously injured?”

“What do you mean?”

“If you turned out to be so wounded that you couldn’t even heal yourself and no one else could save you, what then?”

“Are you trying to ask if I can die?”

Marianne grimaced and nodded, unsettled by the thought. He seemed to muse over it and looked back at her without changing his serene expression.

“Yes, it’s possible.”

“What? And you say it like that? It’s basically just like us.”

“Well, the difference is that humans have souls. Your physical body is just the coating that protects it. Despite death, it continues to exist, some even get reincarnated. However, angels don’t have souls. My own essence took this corporal form. So if I die . . . well, I’d simply cease to exist. I would be completely erased.”

Marianne looked disturbed at how passively he acknowledged this fact, as if he were resigned to that kind of fate.

“But that’s so unfair!”

“Don’t worry. That doesn’t mean I’m going to die so easily,” he said with a warm smile to soothe her. “I just have to be careful”

“You better be. I’m not losing my guardian angel,” she warned him sternly, jumping up and heading to the door. “Gotta get ready for school. And you should take a bath and change those clothes.”

“I will,” he said without erasing his smile, knowing that her bluntness was only hiding her concern.

After she left, he remained on the floor, rubbing the rest of the dried blood from his forehead and looking at the stains in his shirt. It was the first time he had faced a dangerous situation where he’d been injured. Even though he knew it was part of the risk and had accepted it, experiencing it first hand was quite different, a weird mixture of panic and adrenaline he couldn’t explain. He had no idea physical pain could be so intense, but he understood that, in the future, it could be much worse, just like the scenario Marianne had drawn for him: death.

He closed his eyes and moved his head lightly with a sigh. Indeed, the idea of death was frightening in his condition, but his main purpose was to protect Marianne, even if it meant breaking some rules.

“Who was the boy you were with yesterday?” asked Loui after getting out of his room, baggy-eyed and disheveled hair.

“Did you manage to wake up? Remind me not to offer you any more sweets while I’m alive, nor invite you to the movies. Not after that little scene you made yesterday. And if you mean Demian, I wasn’t with him, but it’s good that you remember him because you’ll pay him back the money he gave you. I don’t want to owe him anything,” she snapped, casting a glare at him.

Loui squeezed his eyes and moved his head as if the sound of her voice made him sick. He looked like he was just out of a hangover. A candy hangover.

“No! I mean the blond guy!” he replied, taking her aback. She didn’t expect him to notice when they brought him up to his room. She blinked for a moment, not knowing what to say, but immediately tried to regain her poise.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, you should’ve dreamed it. That’s what you get for eating so many sweets.”

“I know what I saw! Even when you said there wasn’t anyone in your room I’m sure I saw somebody!” he insisted. “Moreover, now that I recall, he was also blond. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, is it?”

“You’ve been imagining things, that’s all,” Marianne repeated unflinching. The only thing she had left was to deny everything and prevent Loui from seeing Samael at all costs, since he could recognize him. “Go change now, you have to go to school.”

“I’m going to find out whatever you’re hiding! You’ll see!”

“Go change, worm!” she commanded him, closing the door behind her.

Since Loui could get to his school by himself, she decided to leave before he even finished breakfast. What had happened with Samael, though distressing at first, could prove useful if they learned how to handle it. They could prevent unnecessary deaths, no matter the distance. Although she wasn’t sure if it was something only he could do, at least she had been able to see the same as him just by contact, and had even brought him back. Perhaps it was because he was connected to her as his guardian angel. Anyway, it was another skill that should be further explored.

Seeing her at the door, Belgina writhed in her seat and looked down in a sheepish gesture. Marianne took a deep breath and entered. Then she stopped in front of Belgina’s desk.

“Explain to me, Belgina, what were you doing with Mitchell yesterday? Why would you agree to go out with him after all we’ve told you?”

“I—I don’t know. I tried to refuse . . . but I couldn’t. He can be so . . . persistent.”

“That’s no excuse!”

“Did I hear well? You went out with Mitchell?” Lilith intervened, standing at one side of her seat while Angie stood at the other, causing Belgina to feel cornered.

“He . . . he behaved,” she said in an attempt to downplay it. “I feared he would try . . . weird things, but . . . he was nice.”

“He acts the same with every girl he meets.”

“I heard that, before he was transferred here, he was at a military academy and was expelled for getting involved with the principal’s daughter,” said Angie, contributing as if they were in the midst of an intervention.

“Shocking!” Lilith snapped, and Belgina sank into her seat even more.

“I didn’t want to say this, but it’s for your own good. The reason why he started to go after you was because I rejected him,” said Marianne, and Belgina clenched her face in a disappointed grimace.

The girls nodded firmly, but before they could add anything else, Kristania appeared next to them, staring seriously at Belgina. They didn’t even notice her arrival. She pulled out her device and wrote something quickly in it.

«I heard you went out with my brother yesterday»

Belgina didn’t answer, just looked around as if hoping the earth to open and swallow her. Kristania then wrote something else on her device.

«I thought you were smarter»

She looked up, feeling crushed. Kristania smirked with a crooked smile as she put her device away, getting back to her seat.

“You . . . also think I’m making a fool of myself, do you?”

“No, of course not! We just want to prevent you from making a mistake.”

“Or making it again in any case,” Lilith added, after which Belgina jumped up and started walking towards the door.

Marianne sighed and shook her head, going after her.

She had stopped at the side door, squeezing her hands behind her back as if she had moved all her stress into them.

“Hey, babe!” Mitchell showed up out of the blue, making Belgina startle. “Relax, it’s just me. I wanted to thank you for yesterday. I had a fun time, I hope you did too.”

She didn’t answer, just looked around, and he did the same, standing beside her.

“What are we looking at? Are we expecting someone?” She stepped back, torn between staying there, or running away. “Is something wrong?”

“Well, you’re not willing to leave her alone, huh?” Marianne interrupted, standing right next to Belgina.

“Oh, just when I thought you were already late to butt in. Well, okay, I understand that you can’t get over me after missing your chance.”

“It’s not even worth arguing with you. Belgina, we should better go back to our classroom before the teacher arrives.”

“Or you could stay here with me, skip classes and go for an ice cream or something.”

“Do you think she’s an irresponsible slacker like you?”

“Well, at least I’m not bossing her around.”

“I’m not bossing her around! You’re the one who’s stalking her!”

“Stalking is an ugly word. I’d rather say I’m persistent.”

Belgina remained aloof, like she had built a bubble around her. A bubble that was starting to crack.

“I have an idea, let her decide whether or not I’m bothering her,” Mitchell finally said. They both turned to Belgina who, finding herself in the spotlight, felt her stomach churning.

“Come on, Belgina, tell him. He’s bothering you, right?”

“Don’t put words in her mouth, let her decide if she wants me to stop talking to her.”

 “You’re just forcing yourself into her!”

“I’m not forcing anyone. I believe she enjoys my company. Isn’t it right, babe?” Both of them stared at her, not showing any signs of giving up. Belgina’s breathing started to hasten, distress getting the best of her, until the bubble burst.

“No!” she yelled, catching them off guard. “In fact, I don’t want to keep listening to either of you right now!”

She then took off running, leaving both open-mouthed and speechless for several seconds, at least until Marianne turned and shot a reproachful look at Mitchell.

“This is your fault! I hope you’re happy!”

Then she followed Belgina’s steps, without recognizing she was partly to blame.

Belgina remained distant for the rest of the day while Marianne tried to think of a way to address. Perhaps she had overstepped a little bit, she thought, but was convinced it was for the better. At least her reaction in the morning was a small step in the right direction.

 “Today we have a meeting, remember?” she tried to sound casual after school. Belgina didn’t decrease her pace or take her eyes off the front. “You’re coming with us, right? Belgina?” She remained quiet, so Marianne turned to Lilith and Angie, who were a few steps behind, for help, but they just shrugged. She shook her head with despair. “Talk to me, please. I just wanted to spare you a hard time with Mitchell, but if you still want to see him . . . ”

Belgina stopped short at that moment and turned to her.

“That’s not the problem. When I met you, I really wanted to be your friend, but Kristania was too dominant and controlling. The fact that you confronted her was a novelty, no one had done it before, and so you gave me the determination to make my own decisions.” Marianne looked at her in complete silence, trying not to interrupt her. “But now your attempt to pull me away from other people, whoever they are, is like a means of restricting my judgment. It is the same thing Kristania does.”

Hearing this, Marianne felt the worst blow that she could have received.

“I’m not like her.”

“Then don’t act like her,” Belgina snapped, looking resolute, like she had never looked before. Marianne chose to put her pride aside and blinked a few times, looking for words to say.

“I’m sorry for my behavior. I took liberties that didn’t concern me and I shouldn’t make decisions for you. Or anyone else,” she said with a regretful expression and waited for Belgina to say something, but she only stared at her with a stoic face until letting out an exhalation.

“Let’s go to the coffee shop then, we still have the whole afternoon ahead.”

She resumed her walk again, and Marianne hesitated, but then Lilith touched her arm as she went past her and she finally followed them.

Demian entered the coffee shop in a hurry, even when his job was virtually someone else’s now. He greeted Mankee with a slight nod and set his sports bag on the counter. Mitchell was reclined on the side, his arms and head resting on the bar, with a blank stare and looking discouraged.

“What’s up with you now? Did someone reject you again?”

“I’d like to think not yet.”

“No offense, but maybe you should rethink your courtship methods,” suggested Demian, suppressing a laugh, and Mitchell pursed his lips.

“And when did you become an expert?” he asked in a willful tone and then paused to reflect on that. “Unless . . . did you really go to the movies with Marianne, then?”

“No! I went with Lucianne,” he clarified, but instantly regretted it when Mitchell lifted his head, like a balloon being inflated.

“Oh, yeah? You mean the Lucianne who’s sitting on the front table with the same dejected expression as me and you didn’t even notice when you came in?” he said, recovering a snarky gleam in his eyes and arching an eyebrow.

Demian looked quickly to the table near the door and Lucianne was indeed over there, contemplating her tea, with her mind elsewhere.

He waved his hand to get her attention, and she responded shyly with another wave, though her face wasn’t as lively as it was the day before.

“You know what? Come sit with me if, there’s enough room here for you too,” said Mitchell, tapping his side of the counter.

“What does that even mean?”

“I’m sorry to inform you that a girl with that kind of expression after a date is a sign that it didn’t go well,” he explained, as though he were an expert.

“It wasn’t a date, we went out as friends,” Demian insisted in a snit.

“If that makes you feel better,” granted Mitchell in a condescending tone that made him roll his eyes and decided to go to the kitchen.

The doorbell rang again, and Mitchell jumped up when the girls entered, approaching Belgina right away.

“Hey, babe, are you feeling better? Do you want something to drink? Or maybe go somewhere else?”

Belgina looked at her friends, but this time they decided to remain silent and go take a seat, letting her make the choice.

She closed her eyes and sighed, gathering courage to do what she had to. Once she opened them again, she kept her gaze steady and fixed on Mitchell.

“No. I should have refused the first time. It was a mistake going out with you, and I won’t do it again.” That said, she turned around and joined her friends, leaving Mitchell with a veiled expression, all the colors gone from his face.

“Are you sure?” asked Marianne, hoping not to be the cause.

“Yes. You were right, what can I expect from someone who says the same to every girl he meets?”

“Good. Excellent!” Marianne seemed happy with the outcome, and the other girls nodded in agreement while Lucianne tried to smile, moving her tea spoon.

“Why so sad, Lucianne? We heard you went out with Demian yesterday. I would have a huge smile right now,” said Lilith.

“We just . . . went out as friends,” she said, like a prepared speech.

“I’m sorry if I ruined your night.”

“No, I told you not to worry about it. Everything’s fine,” Lucianne reiterated with a reassuring smile, but deep inside she wasn’t entirely sure.

The previous night had been a blend of mixed feelings, the past and the present colliding in a way she couldn’t foresee.

After they got to her house, the car parked in the front and Demian walked her to the door. Their hands almost touched as they walked, causing her skin to bristle.

Near the entrance, she stepped ahead to stand at the door and faced him with a glowing smile and a twinkle in her eye. She felt again as the little girl who went everywhere with Demian, and even back then harbored special feelings for him. Maybe those emotions hadn’t gone totally away.

“Thanks for everything,” she said with a tremor in her voice that he did not quite know how to read.

“You don’t have to thank me. I was really happy to see you again, it brought back fond memories.”

Lucianne bit her lip, wondering what to do next. She had two choices: turn around and go into her house or stand there waiting for whatever might happen. She leaned on one foot and then the other, undecided. Demian was about to speak again, when she leaned back on her other foot, this time to build momentum, and buried her face in his chest.

Demian looked bemused, and for several seconds did nothing but keep his arms at the sides, unable to move. He was brought back to his childhood when he used to be with Lucianne all the time, despite the teasing from their classmates, but he’d ultimately ignored them. She ventured to play basketball and videogames with him. Even their mothers seemed to get along quite well, like they were old friends before their deaths a few months apart.

He was friendly with his classmates, but he considered Lucianne his only real friend, and when she left after her mother’s death, he felt no one could ever fill that place, so he kept his distance from others, taking on all kinds of activities.

Thus, he became renowned at school that way. He was kind to his peers, was invited to places, parties, behaved friendly with everyone, but tried not to form any bonds. He had acquaintances, not friends. At least until not so long ago.

Lately he was under the impression that too many people had come into his life unexpectedly, and then Lucianne had returned. The day he saw her after so many years, something inside him stirred a lot of feelings that had remained in pause since her departure.

His ten-year-old self wanted to take control and dig up everything he had been keeping inside back then.

He slowly folded his arms as if they were made of stone and gently placed his hands on her shoulders. Lucianne lifted her face to meet his eyes, those anxious and expectant eyes. His expression didn’t unveil what he was thinking, but his tense posture implied that he was also undecided. However, he finally began to lean towards her.

Her breathing stopped, time became slower. Why was it taking him forever? She wanted to speed it up, she didn’t know how much longer she could hold her breath

However, he stopped a few inches from her. His eyes narrowed and the hands that held her firmly a few moments ago, now released her while he slightly pulled away.

“I—I think I should go,” he murmured with a gasp, as if he had also been holding his breath for too long. Noticing her extreme confusion, he tried to smile to soothe her. “See you tomorrow. You will go to the Retroganzza, right?”

“Yes. Sure,” she answered, not quite knowing how to react.

“Well, then…see you there.”

He stepped back and turned around, leaving her even more befuddled. He glanced at her from the car and waved. Lucianne mimicked his gesture with a weak smile. She had no idea what had just happened, but it definitely wasn’t what she expected.

She got inside her house, somewhat disappointed, leaving her coat on the rack near the entrance and walking in the dark. She knew the place like the back of her hand, so she didn’t need light to go through it. She hung up the keys to their corresponding holder and headed to the stairs with discouraged steps, still wondering what had gone wrong, making a mental review and trying to remember if she had done something to put a damper on it.

While she was racking her brain in her way up the stairs, something large passed her hastily, colliding with her and making her fall on the steps, briefly seeing the front door opening and a silhouette getting out.

She stayed over the stairs for a couple of minutes, panting heavily and looking towards the door. Was it a thief? How had he broken into her house?

And then a thought crossed her mind. She rested her hand on one of the steps to push herself up and then bolted upstairs, toward her father’s room. The door was unlocked and there was no sign of him. She turned on the lights and moved closer to check the door frame, in case it had been forced, but it was intact. She pushed the door softly to get inside and found fragments of glass on the floor. Her father must have broken the glass of juice and used the pieces to force the lock. She could even see some bloodstains on the knob.

Her legs could no longer stay firm and she fell on the floor. Her father had escaped and she had no idea what to do now. Her day couldn’t have gone any worse.

“…So theoretically we would have a way to prevent long distance attacks, but perhaps Samuel could explain it better,” Marianne was saying, while Lucianne seemed distracted, stirring her already empty cup of tea.

“How do you know what happened? Were you with him?” Angie asked suspiciously.

“He…told me over the phone,” Marianne lied, pulling out her cell phone and pretending to check on it.

“Oh, could you give us his number? That way we’ll all be connected,” suggested Angie. Marianne looked at the screen nervously, quickly scrolling through her contact list —which wasn’t very extensive anyway, in fact she had only added her friends and her family. And it was precisely on her brother’s name that she stopped, made a quick decision, selected the edit option and quickly changed his name to Samuel, handing them the phone so they could type the number.

She felt unnerved. Not only did she have to get a phone for Samael now, but it had to be precisely her brother’s.

“You said he would come, right? He’s getting late,” said Lilith, fiddling with her drink after saving the number on her cell.

“That’s true, he should be here by now…” Marianne nodded, beginning to worry.

“Done. I’ve sent him a message telling him we’re waiting for him,” Angie announced, making Marianne uneasy at the thought of Loui calling back and the whole charade falling apart. Right then they heard a ringtone, and she jolted, but it turned out to be Lucianne’s cell.

“Are you going to answer that?” Marianne asked, noticing how she was just staring at the screen. Lucianne said nothing, just got up and stepped away from the table to answer the call, leaving the girls puzzled.

“Are you sure she went out with Demian? She doesn’t look like it,” said Lilith, lowering her voice. “What if he was mean to her?”

“I don’t think so. He’s always been respectful to everybody, even if he keeps his distance from others,” said Angie, who, besides Lucianne, was one of the only people who knew more about him since she was friends with his sister.

“Anyone who’s had the courage to date Kristania has my sympathy if they later end up closing off to everyone else, so I wouldn’t blame him,” Lilith said matter-of-factly, lifting her glass to ask for another drink. “Hey, Monkey! Can I get a refill?”

“Mankee,” the boy corrected her.

All the while, Marianne looked intently at her cousin, who was moving from side to side, talking over the phone. She wondered what had happened the day before. The last thing she remembered was that she looked happy when she’d left with Demian.

“Excuse me,” said Lucianne, coming back to them. Her face looked even whiter than before. “Something came up. I have to leave you for today. We’ll talk later, okay?” She took her purse, left some money on the table and walked out hastily.

“That was odd,” said Angie, and the others nodded while Lilith adopted a thoughtful pose, as if she knew something the rest didn’t.

“What are you thinking about?” asked Marianne.

“Hmmm, no, no. I can’t tell you. I promised,” said Lilith, shaking her head, but that only made everyone more curious.

“Do you know something about Lucianne that we don’t?” Marianne asked again, resting her hands on the table. Lilith gulped, realizing she had said too much and couldn’t escape now from their scrutiny

After walking for several blocks through the commercial district, Lucianne saw Officer Perry in the middle of a street, leaning impatiently on the hood of his car. She hurried up and crossed the street, running towards him.

“Miss Lucianne . . . ”

“I told you to call me just Lucianne. I hope you haven’t waited too long. I came running as soon as you called me.”

“I’ve been watching the perimeter in case someone else shows up.”

“What is it then? What’s so urgent?” she asked, looking anxious, though her mind couldn’t help but think it had to do with her father. The young officer looked away and cleared his throat, as though he wasn’t sure how to proceed.

“I don’t know how to say this. I was hoping you could explain it to me. I . . . don’t know what to think.”

He put his hands on his belt and immediately delved into the lane in front of them, beckoning her to follow him. He led her along the alley while he explained the situation.

“I got a report about a robbery on Central Avenue. I was close, so I got there right away and I could see a man running away. I chased him for three blocks until I managed to catch him and knock him down.” He then stopped at an unconscious man on the ground, hands cuffed behind his back. “But when I cuffed him and turned him around . . . ” He moved away to let her see for herself and Lucianne paled as she realized it was her father. “I never thought I would live to see the commissioner under these circumstances. Didn’t you say he was sick?”

“And he is! Don’t you see it? He’s very sick!” she said, kneeling beside him in a protective gesture. “Dad would never do these things, he’s not being himself! He’s not acting with any sense at all!”

“But . . . why didn’t you tell me what was going on? I could have done something to prevent him from reaching this point. Now . . . I’m torn between my duty and betraying his trust.”

“Please, don’t do it. Do you have any idea how humiliating it will be for him when he regains his common sense? He won’t stand it,” she pleaded with desperate eyes, trying to appeal to his loyalty towards her father.

He looked at her with concern, feeling at a crossroads, but couldn’t resist those sorrowful honey eyes. He would do anything for her.

“I’ll help you take him back home,” he finally agreed to Lucianne’s surprise. “And we must keep him locked, so he won’t escape again.”

“Thank you! Thank you, Perry! You have no idea what it means to me!” she said gratefully, but her expression faded when she looked up and saw her friends approaching behind him, watching everything. “What are you doing here?”

As soon as they moved to Lucianne’s house, she remained silent, sitting in the living room sofa with her eyes on the floor, looking ashamed.

“You could have told us, you know? We could’ve helped you,” said Marianne to break the silence.

“You wouldn’t understand. It’s not your father who’s going through this situation.”

“But it could be,” said Belgina, feeling especially empathic with her. “My mother was a target of the Legion of Darkness at the time. She could have been in your father’s place.”

“And I only have my father, if something would happen to him . . . ” Angie chimed in while Lucianne squeezed her hands, feeling helpless.

“My mother also lost her gift,” Marianne intervened again, standing firm to prove Lucianne she wasn’t alone. “And now she’s in the hospital, weakened and unable to recover unless we give it back to her. So yes, I understand your situation. You tried to protect your father, but it won’t work unless you accept we need to help each other, because we’re just as involved as you in this. It rests on us to get our parents back to normal.”

Lucianne looked like she was about to break at any moment, holding the urge to burst into tears.

“We’ll be here as long as we can. We’ll monitor your father between all of us, that way he won’t escape.”

“Would you really do that?” she asked with a whimper and the girls exchanged asserted glances.

“It’s a promise,” Marianne swore, taking her hand to show her support, followed by the other girls, getting a smile out of her and a sob.

“Just to be clear, I didn’t say a word. These gossipmongers decided to follow you to see what was going on,” Lilith added, causing some protests in jest from them.

“I’ve secured the door and windows and took out everything he could use to escape again,” Officer Perry announced as he went downstairs. “I’ve also immobilized him, hands and feet at the moment. We’ll have to keep it that way in case he gets violent when he wakes up.”

“You have no idea how much I appreciate it. I don’t know what I would have done without your help.”

“It’s nothing, really. I would do anything for…” The officer interrupted himself to fake-clear his throat before Lucianne’s muddled face and the girls sharing glances. “Well, gotta go. I still have work to do. I’ll come by often to check on him and help with whatever you need.”

“Not to sound like a scratched record, but thanks again,” Lucianne repeated, taking his hands in gratitude, causing him to blush.

“Se-Seriously, it’s nothing,” he said, starting to laugh nervously as he walked towards the door. “See you soon!”

Lucianne waved him off, feeling a little better now that she would have help. She turned around, willing to take a break, and noticed the girls looking at her with their eyebrows lifted.

“What is it?”

“As if it wasn’t enough with one. Share something with us poor unfortunate souls, will you?” said Lilith, wiggling her eyebrows.

“Nonsense,” refuted Lucianne, heading to the kitchen while the others followed her.

Marianne got back home later, wondering if Samael had gone to the coffee shop and what his reaction had been to not find them there.

“I’m home!” she announced to test the waters, but received no answer, which seemed a little strange.

She knew she couldn’t just call Samael at the risk of Loui finding out, in case he was home, so she decided to go straight to the attic. She paused a few seconds at the door with her hand on the knob, and put an ear to the wood, trying to hear inside. There wasn’t any sound at all until she seemed to hear the slightest turn of a page.

She sighed relieved that at least he was still there, so she opened the door with confidence, but immediately stopped. Loui was inside, lying on the mattress and reading one of the books.

“Ah, you’re finally here,” he said with a keen expression and a smirk on his face. Then he closed the book he was holding and stood up with a jump. “I’ve been waiting for you the whoooooole day.”