Chapter 16


“I cannot believe Mankee’s been hiding something like that all along,” Marianne said as they got home.

“I knew he was hiding something, but I didn’t want to find out more at his expense. I thought he would eventually reveal his secret,” Samael replied, closing the front door while Marianne hung his coat on the rack and announced their arrival.

“It’s a miracle you didn’t take that long to come home today,” Loui said, peeking from the main coach in front of the TV, with a bowl of popcorn and a walkie talkie to his side.

“It’s a miracle you decided to come home by yourself without bothering us,” Marianne retorted, earning her a bitter look from her brother.

“I know when my presence is not welcome, thanks. Better off alone than in bad company,” Loui replied in a resentful tone.

“Don’t even start again, okay? We’ve just arrived,” Marianne snorted wearily. “Where’s mom?”

“You see that?” the boy pointed to a corner where there was a mound of piled clothes. “She pulled it out of her closet for charity. She said she needed new clothes, so she went to the mall. There’s pizza in the kitchen if you want some.”

Marianne snorted again, already tired of pizza after several days of eating nothing but that. Ever since the divorce, her mother had been acting more immature than usual and ignoring responsabilities at home, as if she’d had a setback in age or suddenly decided she was going to make up for her lost teen years. Whatever it was, you know something’s not going well at home when you don’t only get pizza for dinner but also for lunch the whole week.

“We have to help dad moving tomorrow,” Loui said while on a commercial break. “…And you better not leave all the responsibility to me at the last minute.”

“We’ll go. Don’t worry about it,” Marianne replied, walking up the stairs, followed by Samael. After her mother’s last artistic streak, she had painted every wall with a different art style, but the walls of her room, unlike the rest of the house, hadn’t adopted a specific artistic wave, they were just decorated with drawings of different types of feathers. “I guess it’s okay if you come with us this time. It’s not like he has that many things to take to his new house, anyway.”

“I’d like to, but I’ll go out with Angie tomorrow,” he said casually, and Marianne looked at him, lifting her eyebrows.

“…You’ll go out with Angie tomorrow?” she repeated to confirm she hadn’t misheard.

“I bumped into her when I was heading for the swim club and asked her out,” he said as if it were the most normal thing to do.

“You know how Angie feels about you, right?” He looked confused at her, and she rolled her eyes, aware that she had to bring up the subject no matter how uncomfortable it was. “…She likes you.”

“I like her too,” he said with a shrug.

“I’m not talking about the way you like everybody.”

Samael scratched his head with a muddled expression.

“You’ve told me this before, but I still don’t see any difference.”

“I don’t expect you to see it, but at least be aware of the damage you’d be doing to her by giving her false hopes.”

“How would I be doing that?” Samael insisted and she let out a loud huff while leaving her school bag on her bed and turning towards him.

“Think about the way you’re always waiting for information from the superior realm, but you don’t get anything lately after your sleep marathon; imagine then that, after a while, you start receiving new information to the point of an important final revelation; of course this makes you so excited you cannot wait for new information to come, but when it finally arrives, it’s not what you expected… In fact, it’s a shake of your beliefs, something that contradicts everything you thought so far. Maybe that they’re actually aliens; or you’re in a dream within a dream of a genetically altered monkey in suspended animation; I don’t know, you choose,” she tried to explain. “…How would you feel? Disappointed, isn’t it?”

“And very confused— Aliens? A monkey in suspended animation?” Samael replied, deeming it too much.

“Well, okay, something closer to you. Imagine if the Legion of Darkness finds a way to intercept these signs the superior realm sends to you with their… angelic energy waves or whatever they use, and once they intercept them, they begin to send theirs to mislead you and mess up with our duty by creating chaos in your head. How would that make you feel?”

“That would be terrible!” Samael said, horrified by the thought. “…Why are you telling me this? Now I won’t stop thinking about it.”

“Well, at least now you have in mind how would Angie feel if you mislead her into thinking she has a chance with you only to find out she doesn’t. You’ll be the equivalent of the Legion of Darkness sending wrong signals. You don’t want that, right?”

Samael quickly shook his head, his face still overwhelmed at the thought she had planted in him.

“What should I do then? Should I cancel?”

“Oh, no. You have to go,” she said resolutely, confusing him even more. “You already invited her, the least you can do is honoring that invitation. Just don’t do anything to create any false hope on her, but be subtle, you don’t want to break her heart with a direct punch to the gut.”

“Why would I want to break her heart by beating her in the gut? That sounds painful, I don’t think she would survive.”

Marianne laughed at his naiveté.

“Seriously, never change,” she said while opening her closet. “I think it’ll be enough for you to be yourself, but perhaps keeping your distance. That’s all.”

Samael nodded, as confused as he still seemed. He turned to leave, but stopped again by the door, still in doubt.

“…That wouldn’t happen, right?” he asked, and Marianne turned around, not understanding what he meant. “What you said about the Legion of Darkness intervening the information I receive and sending their own signals to confuse me.”

“Well, how should I know? You’re the one from the superior realm, you’re supposed to know better about that sort of things. Do you think something like that would be likely to happen?”

“…Not that I know of,” he said not very confidently, and Marianne saw him so upset that she tried to release him from the torture.

“Well, stop tormenting with that! It was just a stupid idea for an example! Ignore it, okay? But not what I was trying to illustrate for you, keep that in mind. It works, see? You don’t want Angie to feel like that, do you?”

Samael shook his head again and resumed his steps, closing the door behind him.

Lucianne was supposedly doing homework in the living room while glancing at his father and officer Perry discussing something about a murder in one of the neighboring towns. The case had been sent to other jurisdictions for their help and her father had to organize his officers to take care of it without neglecting their own investigations. At the moment, they both were looking at a stash of papers with all the information relevant to the case, and given Perry’s presence, Lucianne deducted it had been assigned to him.

Her father’s phone suddenly rang, and he stepped aside to answer, going to the kitchen to talk privately. Lucianne took the moment to walk by the dining room table where Perry was examining the documentation provided with some pictures from the scene. She slowed down her steps and glanced over his shoulder but regretted it right away as she caught a glimpse of the body. The young officer immediately gathered all the pictures and put them face down in a folder after noticing she was passing by.

“…Sorry. Didn’t mean to pry.”

“No problem, miss Lucianne. It’s your house; you can do as you please.”

A grimace formed in Lucianne’s mouth, despite her effort to return to their prior relationship, he insisted on treating her in a formal way. She was starting to fear he would never be the same with her and didn’t blame him; after the way she had treated him when she was giftless, she couldn’t even forgive herself.

“Say, Perry—” she tested the waters, reminding herself the reason why she was putting on that act of studying for two long hours without even flipping a page. “I guess the police research department may have access to any information they need. If there was, for example, a rumor about some teacher’s inappropriate behavior that a school has covered up and suddenly one of the affected students decided to go to the police, you have the means to dig out any kind of report even if they refused to disclose them, right?”

Officer Perry finally dared to raise his head and looked startled at her, peering into the kitchen in case commissioner Fillian came back.

“…Is one of your teachers stalking you? Your father knows about this? What am I saying? If he knew he would have already sent an entire squad to the school and kept the staff hostage until they handed the culprit to him,” he began to babble, imagining different scenarios with growing anger.

“…What? No! No one’s stalking me!” she clarified, trying to take the idea out of his mind.

“I can’t believe you would ask a question like that just for cultural knowledge. This is a serious matter that shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

“I know it’s serious, but if I ask about it, it doesn’t mean it’s happening to me.”

“I don’t think it’s out of simple curiosity,” Perry insisted, convinced that there was more behind her innocent question.

“All right, it’s… a friend of a friend,” she said once understanding she wasn’t gonna get anything unless she gave him a reason.

“…A friend of a friend,” he repeated, lifting an eyebrow to denote how lame it sounded.

“That’s right, believe it or not. There’s this professor who was allegedly… harassing him in another school and found out he was also in his new school, which upseted him and now he doesn’t know what to do since he had agreed to change the reason of their beef in the first place,” Lucianne explained, tweaking the original story; even though she feared it may end up being truth. “He tried to change to another class, but the school didn’t allow it, so… I was thinking that if there was any way to proof his original statement, maybe… he would be able to change to another class.”

“Is the guy your teacher?”

“Well… yes, but—”

“Say no more. If what you’re saying is true and he’s previously harrassed a student in another school, it’s likely he’ll do it again over time, especially if he managed to get away with it already; this kind of behavior tends to recur.”

“So… do you think it would be possible—?”

“If we go to the school requesting access to their files without any court order, they’ll kick us out. But as you said, there are methods in the research department,” Perry said, looking more confident in his field.

“So… will you help?” Lucianne asked hopefully and he seemed brought back to reality and what that would mean.

“Well… without a warrant it would be illegal— and I could be punished for it.” Upon Lucianne’s apparent disappointment he tried to rectify. “But… I have some friends who owe me favors. Maybe I can do something through them.”

“I’ll be really grateful… and the friend of my friend will too.”

“The important thing is avoiding something like that happening again.”

Lucianne smiled and even though Perry smiled back too, he looked down at the papers on the table and began to rearrange them while clearing his throat.

“…You better go back to your homework, or your father will think you’re looking at pictures you shouldn’t be watching.”

“Sure, my homework,” Lucianne repeated, widening her eyes as she remembered. “I was done for the day, anyway. Thanks, again, Perry.”

She went back to her room, more relaxed now that she had recruited Perry in her quest to discover what Frank wasn’t telling, even when the young officer had no idea of this.

Marianne was going down the stairs, wearing a hoody for comfort, ready to leave, when she saw Samael walking around restlessly.

“Are you still obsessed with the nonsense I told you yesterday?”

“Perhaps I should better cancel. I don’t want to inadvertently hurt Angie. You really don’t want me to go with you?”

“No, and you cannot cancel minutes away from meeting her.”

“So, are you all going out without telling me?” Her mother was also coming down the stairs, dressed in one of her new outfits. She’d tried to maintain a youthful look, but at least she no longer looked like the mother trying to regain her teen years by borrowing clothes from her own daughter. “Do you think you rule yourselves our what?”

“We told you we were going to help dad today, but it’s like you don’t listen to us lately.”

“Very well, never mind. I’m also going out, anyway,” she snapped, closing her ears to anything about Noah.

“Again?” Marianne asked, frowning.

“Am I supposed to stay here, sweeping, and washing dishes on a Saturday?”

Marianne rolled her eyes and refrained from arguing. She went out of the house with Loui and Samael until eventually they parted ways, the angel in his way to meet Angie, and the siblings heading to the hotel their father was staying in.

“Couldn’t we just wait for dad to come for us? I don’t like the bus,” Loui complained, trying to hold onto a handle too high for him.

“He’s not answering his phone, so we better go see him instead of wasting time,” Marianne replied, holding from another handle, and swaying as the bus stopped and kept going. Loui snorted while opting to better hold onto the back of a seat and the walkie talkie he had on his belt made a slight interference noise when it hit against the metal. “…May I know why are you taking that thing everywhere? Did you get tired of your phone or what?”

“It’s a secret project, none of your business,” he said curtly.

“Ufff, forgive me, your highness! I didn’t know I was intruding on a secret mission of such importance for the universe.”

“Let’s just say that if you already have your little elitist group, I can also have mine,” Loui snapped, and Marianne gave him a suspicious look.

“…You’re not planning to do anything dangerous, are you? Because I’ve told you a thousand times that it’s not just about accepting anyone’s admissions.”

“I’m not just anyone!” the kid protested, huffing again with indignation.

“You have to understand that it’s nothing personal. It’s not like we decided overnight to become this way— well, yeah, okay, maybe we techically found out from one second to another, but it was because we already had it inside us!” she muttered to prevent any other passenger to listen.

“Like an infection,” Loui remarked.

“Oh, sure! Bring on the insults now! Okay, if you want to see it that way. It’s an infection we were born with, happy? A virus that grows a little more each day!” she shot back to end the matter and when she realized, some of the passengers from the closest seats were already looking at them as if they had a barrel of toxic waste marked with the biohazard sign in front of them. “…It’s not contagious. Relax. It’s not contagious! Got it? It’s NOT,” she emphasized the latter, lowering her voice so that only Loui could hear it. “So, don’t you even think that you can get it too just by hanging out with us.”

“Maybe I have it too.”

“Believe me, we’d know,” Marianne grunted, trying to ignore him now. Loui huffed and suddenly slapped the small backpack from her shoulder to the ground

“Oops, it fell! Pick it up!” he commanded, trying to give her the most intense glare he could.

Marianne’s brows furrowed in a gesture of annoyance at his behavior and held his gaze steadily. A few seconds later, she finally bent down to pick up the backpack upon Loui’s initial joy, which soon became pain as she got up and hit him with it.

“Don’t you ever do that again!”

Loui made a sulky pout and clung to the handle, looking out the windows. The following minutes they kept silence until getting off the bus across the hotel where their father was staying.

“…Seriously, that friend of yours must have huge influences to get him to stay here,” Loui remarked, watching the place in awe.

“I’d rather not think about it,” Marianne replied. She was already ahead of him, trying to make her way through the people entering the hotel.

She was near the entrance when she decided to look back over her shoulder to make sure Loui was following her. He was like two feet behind her, dodging luggages carried by unaware bellhops, like an adventurer avoiding obstacles using only his agility and wit. Marianne rolled her eyes and turned around again to keep going, and suddenly her shoulder bumped into someone.

“I’m so—” she tried to apologize, but the person kept going in a hurry and didn’t even look at her.

It was a woman with long auburn hair, and although Marianne only saw her back, she felt uneasy for some reason. She reminded her of something, but what? She was already turning around, deciding to let it go, when a familiar scent riddled the air after that brief encounter. A perfume that stirred her memories like sticking a hand into a raffle full of numbered balls to take out the winning one, and by the time the memory came to light, her backpack almost slipped to the floor. The lavender scent from the letters her father received. The woman…

She felt a shiver inside and could almost hear the loud pumping of her heart when she quickly turned around, but there was no trace of the woman, she was already gone.

She saw Loui out the corner of her eye still pushing through people, trying to reach her, but everything seemed so unreal now, like a tape projecting in front of her, concealing the real view with the route the woman had taken. And then it dawned on her what her presence meant. Her father wasn’t answering the phone, after all.

Something prompted her to turn around and bolt through the lobby towards one of the elevators, her senses closed to her surroundings, the sound of her brother yelling her name already far in the distance. She didn’t stop to see if she was being followed, she just pressed the floor number and the elevator went up so quickly she could barely notice it was moving, but Marianne was so shaken inside, she couldn’t appreciate it.

As soon as the elevator opened, she ran towards the room through the wide, carpeted hall. She stopped at the front door out of breath, wondering what to do next, to face her father’s lies or let her agitation subside. She finally gritted her teeth and knocked on the door, loud enough to be heard. She waited a few seconds, and no one answered, so she tried again. Nothing. Her anger was already cooling down and she couldn’t afford it to wane.

She stepped back a few inches to watch the door as if suddenly some magical portal would appear, or a key would fall from the sky, but it was a waste of time. She took her hands to her hips and let out a frustrated snort. It was then that she saw it on the floor, half slid under the door. A white envelope.

Whether the pang she felt in her stomach was due to seeing it there or the gravity after bending over so quickly to retrieve it, it didn’t matter, the fact was that, in the blink of an eye, she already had it in her hands and watched it closely. It was exactly the same as the previous ones, completely white and austere, and the characteristic fragance. She turned it up and saw her father’s name written in the same delicate handwriting. The woman with long auburn hair— It had to be her.

“Hey, what the hell is wrong with you?!” Loui’s voice suddenly boomed, coming down the hallway. She quickly kept the envelope in a pocket and turned around, trying to act casual.

“Nothing, I just—” she started to say when she saw her father also approaching with Loui. Her hand automatically closed around the envelope inside her pocket.

“What’s going on? I went out in the morning for some errands and when I returned, I saw Loui at the entrance telling me that you had suddenly broke into a run. Didn’t we agree that I would pick you up?”

Marianne stared gobsmacked at him. That meant he wasn’t in his room; he wasn’t even in the hotel. If so, the woman had just slid the envelope behind the door and then left quickly before he came back, bumping into her in the entrance. But why? Who was this woman? And despite the apparently circumstancial innocence of her father this time, it didn’t escape to her scrutiny that the woman knew where he was staying.

“…You weren’t answering the phone,” was all she could say. Noah slightly frowned, and after checking his pockets, he realized his cell had disappeared.

“I should have left it in the room. Let’s get inside,” he said, walking to the door while she almost leapt without taking her hands from her pockets. “Are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Maybe I have,” she whispered, getting into the room behind Loui.

“What did you say?” Noah asked, turning as if he hadn’t heard right.

“Ohhh, didn’t you know, dad? She can talk to ghosts!” Loui suddenly interjected, taking the opportunity to annoy his sister. “It all started when she was about my age and began to hear them. More recently she met the ghost of our house.” Marianne gave him a warning look to stop. “Don’t you remember? You once said that perhaps you had seen it. And the ghost’s name is Sa—ouch!”

Marianne passed by him, stepping on his toes to make him shut, standing in the middle of the apartment while her father entered the dorm. There were bags already accommodated on one side of the furniture, waiting to be taken out. She looked anxiously from them to the room, her hands itched just at the thought of the envelope and its contents.

“That’s odd,” Noah said, getting out of the room with one last bag over his shoulder. “I can’t find it anywhere. Could you call me? Maybe the sound will guide us to it.”

“I would, but I’ve run out of credit,” Loui said, and Marianne took out her phone before they would say anything. The dial tone started, but they heard no sound in the room, not even distant or muffled. They waited in case someone answered on the other side, but nothing happened until the call was cut.

“Well, I guess I lost it then,” Noah said with a sigh, starting to collect the bags gathered in the middle of the room. “I’ll get another one later. Will you help me get them out?”

Loui tried to take one of the biggest bags, but he could only drag it, so his father patted him on the shoulder, gave him the handbag, and took that suitcase instead. Loui then returned for another one of the smaller bags.

“I think one trip will suffice. Let’s go then,” Noah said, carrying the heaviest luggage. Marianne looked around for some details, maybe something to prove the presence of the coppery haired woman, any gesture from her father, but he behaved as nonchalant as ever. “Did you forget something?”

She finally took the handles of the two remaining suitcases and dragged them out of there, looking down at the spot where she had found the envelope.

Angie got off right at the bus stop out of the school, nervousness reflected in her face. She checked her hair and clothes for the thousandth time since she had left her house and took a deep breath. As the bus started up again, she saw Samael right across the street, watching the coffee shop from the outside.

An automatic smile appeared on her face and immediately crossed the street overwhelmed with excitement. She imagined herself approaching stealthily behind him and covering his eyes to ask who she was in a playful manner, or perhaps startling him as some couples used to do, but immediately dismissed those ideas, reminding herself the circumstances of the date. So, she just stopped behind him and gave him a light tap on the shoulder. He turned to her and smiled like he would do with any other person. His face didn’t light up and his eyes had no special glow. Angie struggled to maintain her joyful smile.

“Hi! I hope you didn’t have to wait for so long.”

“I just got here too,” he said, looking back to the inside. Several of the men with robes were stationed in the coffee shop, working hard in what seemed to be a total make over, changing decorations and lights with a more oriental influence. They had even taken down the name of the coffee shop letter by letter, leaving its space ready to put the new one.

“…Demian won’t like this at all,” Angie commented. Samael decided to enter, and Angie hurried after him.

Things weren’t so different inside. There were more men moving things out while the girl who claimed to be Mankee’s fiancee gave instructions at the center. Lilith watched in horror on one side and Mankee himself was at the bottom of the counter, his head hiding under his arms.

“They’re going to end with the integrity of this place. I didn’t even meet Mr. Ganzza and I’m sure he must be wallowing in his grave,” Lilith muttered while twisting a napkin and gnashing her teeth every time another accesory from the retro theme was removed from its place.

“Have you tried to stop them?” Angie asked.

“Are you crazy?! Did you see the size of their sabers?! My head is too beautiful to be separated from my body!” the blonde replied, touching her neck.

“I don’t think Mankee would allow it, anyway.”

“Well, he’s certainly allowing the desecration of the place that welcomed him when he pretended to be someone else,” Lilith said, looking back at the boy who now seemed to be trying to bash his head against the counter, but whenever he dropped his face, one of the men staying at his side placed a pad in front of him to cushion it. “…That lying bastard, son of… some king from a faraway land.”

“…You haven’t talked to him, huh?”

“Ha! Like I would after his deceit!” Lilith said with dignity. “…Besides, to be able to talk to his highness one must first pass through the psycho girlfriend and her hell hounds. I even doubt I’ll be able to keep my job having those man servants working for free.”

“…Poor thing. He looks miserable,” Angie said now that Mankee looked at them with a downcast expression.

“Poor thing? Poor Remy who took refuge in the kitchen and won’t come out fearing he will get fired! Boohoo, I’m a prince who gets whatever he wants! I’m so miserable! Why is life so unfair? Boohoo!”

“…You seem even more outraged than Demian,” Angie said, and Lilith just huffed.

Samael decided to approach Mankee, but within a yard from him, a couple of men drew their swords, forcing him to stop.

“Enough! Lay down your weapons! He’s a friend! You cannot keep doing that each time someone approaches me!” Mankee ordered, and the men lowered their sabers dutifully. “…Now go. I don’t need to be babysitted, nothing will happen.” His guards didn’t leave but stepped a few feet away to give him the illusion of privacy, though it seemed impossible with the other men turning the place upside down. He sighed once again and rested his elbows on the counter. “…Go ahead, say what you have to say. The resentment against me hasn’t stopped since yesterday.”

“You’re a prince,” Samael said and Mankee let out an exhausted laugh.

“Yeah, well, at least according to my mother, the queen. Something difficult to argue with her.”

“But that’s not what prompted you to run away. Not even the responsibilities— There’s something else, right?”

Mankee fell silent and looked nervously at the girl running everything in the middle of the place. Samael followed his gaze and watched her too.

“…Is it because of that girl? Is that why you tried to flee yesterday? Because somehow you knew she was coming for you?”

“Shhhhhhh!” Mankee put his finger on his lips to ask for discretion and the veiled girl quickly turned to them, as if knowing they were talking about her. “…Lower your voice down, please! She could hear it!”

“Why are you so afraid of her?” Samael insisted despite Mankee’s gestures pleading him to shut up.

“Prince Hisham, I think you should go to rest, we have everything under control here.”

The girl suddenly appeared next to them, and he twitched for a brief moment.

“I’m—I’m fine. I don’t need to rest,” he said, trying to hide his fear. “And—and I didn’t approve of any of the changes in this place. It isn’t even legally mine.”

“Nonsense. The rahkasa gave it away, it’s yours. You’ll feel at home once the refurbishment is over.”

“…That’s what I’m afraid of,” Mankee murmured amid another sigh while the girl changed focus to Samael and watched him carefully.

“Friend of the prince, are you?” she said with an analytical expression and Samael didn’t know if he had to respond, but she left the scrutiny aside and smiled. “There’s light in you; you’re no danger. You have my approval.”

Samael looked perplexed from her to Mankee, but he just slouched and pretended he didn’t hear that, so the angel looked back at the girl, his interest peaked.

“Maybe we should go somewhere else; they seem very busy here.” Angie approached him and noticed his expression while looking at the foreign girl. A new wave of pangs took hold of her heart; that was the same kind of look he gave to Addalynn. Driven by an overpowering feeling, she grabbed his wrist and repeated her request more strongly. “I know a place not so far from here; we could go there.”

“All right,” Samael promptly agreed, and immediately walked away while Angie heaved a sigh between guilty and relieved. Before she even took a step, she noticed the veiled girl smiling in a knowing way.

“…Careful with that, red girl.”

Angie got tense at the comment, but the girl stood again at the center of the place to continue shouting orders, so she tried to dismiss the feeling of disapproval and tried to reach Samael.

The coffee shop they ended up in was more formal than they were used to, but not as fancy as to make them uncomfortable. Samael was completely focused on his menu, trying to decide what to order while Angie peeked at him from the other side of the table, almost in a worshiping way. The voice of reason told her not to raise any hope, but the voice of the heart distracted her from any logical reasoning and urged her to picture elaborate ways how the evening could develop in a parallel world and other circumstances in which he wasn’t an angel. She was so absorbed that she didn’t notice when the waiter stopped at their table.

“I don’t know what to ask for; everything sounds good to me,” Samael said with an indecisive grin. “I’ll leave it to your consideration.”

Angie reacted as if she had awakened with a jolt and quickly set her eyes on the menu, but she couldn’t pay attention to it. She babbled a few words, feeling the weight of both the waiter and Samael gazes on her, until she ended up ordering a couple of burgers. The cheapest and predictable option; how embarrassing to drag Samael to another coffee shop just to order the same as always.

“…I’m sorry. Perhaps, you would have liked to try something new,” Angie apologized as the waiter left.

“It’s okay, I love burgers,” Samael said with one of his shiny smiles. “And cookies. If I could, I would only feed on cookies and burgers; though I don’t think that would be very healthy to the common human.”

“Really? Any special kind of cookie?” she asked, trying to take mental notes.

“Chocolate chip cookies! They’re delicious.”

“Have you tried chocolate stuffed with chococalte chip cookies?”

“No, but now I wanna try it!” Samael said, widening his eyes as if the very idea sounded whimsical enough and she seemed pleased to have caught his attention.

“I’ll give you some next time. You’ll love it.”

Samael returned her smile, but then remembered what Marianne had tried to make him understand with her illustrative (and disturbing) example last night. He didn’t want to take the role of the Legion of Darkness.

“Mmmmh, Angie… I still don’t quite understand how many things work in this world,” he started. “…So much that I still depend on the guide from others. Marianne told me I shouldn’t lead you on, and although I’m not entirely sure what that means, I hope you don’t get a wrong idea about me.”

Angie looked down at her hands, clasped on her lap, and could almost swear she felt her heart writhing like a living organism on its own. Rejection was one of her worst fears, and since he was aware of what that ‘date’ meant to her and tried not to feed her fantasies, she was practically on the verge of being rejected. She was aware and tried to accept it, but the annoying muscle in her chest refused to cooperate.

“Don’t worry, I won’t get the wrong idea. We’re just two friends having a good time… Isn’t it right?”

“Sure,” Samael said, smiling more relaxed. That was easy, he thought; any misunderstanding was already resolved.

The waiter returned with their orders and his attention quickly shifted towards the huge burger placed before him, and while he gave it the first bite, Angie looked at hers, her apetite already lost. Her mind was still going about his inability to understand the kind of feelings she had for him.

“…I’m sorry, there’s something I just can’t get past,” she suddenly said, interrupting him. “You say there are human feelings and customs that are beyond your comprehension right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experience them someday. How can you be so sure then that you won’t get to feel it too?”

“…You’re right, I don’t now,” Samael admitted after trying to process her words. “But I guess something like that would stand out to me, so I try not to think of that for now.”

“Oh. So… you haven’t experienced any… feeling you can’t explain,” she added.

“Mmmh, not particularly, no.”

“Not even… with Addalynn?”

Samael frowned, puzzled by the connection.

“I don’t understand what she’s got to do with this.”

“Just that… you seem so interested in her.”

“There are a lot of things she’s not telling us, so of course I want to know more about her, maybe it’s connected to what’s happening recently; but honestly, I don’t know what’s so strange about it.”

Angie let out a sigh while repressing a relieved laugh. It wasn’t the same as having a real chance with him, but at least it was something to appease her willful heart. But then she looked up and fell silent. Something out there had left her stunned.

“…Oh, no,” she said, placing the menu vertical to her and hiding behind it. “Not here, not now!”

“What?” Samael asked, stopping the trajectory of his burger.

“My father! He’s here! He must not see me! He thinks I’m with my friends!”

“Well, we’re friends.”

“It’s not the same. If he sees me with a boy, he’ll think I’ve been lying just to get out and do things… I shouldn’t be doing— Did he go?”

“He sat at the other end. Someone’s with him,” he said and his face suddenly twitched in confusion. “…That’s odd.”

“What?” Angie tried to accommodate the menu, so she could spy in the same direction without being seen. Her father was leaning over the table, talking to someone else, and she tried to discreetly move the menu to see the person in front of him. When she finally managed to place it at an angle that allowed her to have both her father and his companion in sight, she was surprised to find out that the person was Marianne’s mother.

“Weird. This morning she said she would go out but didn’t say he would meet your father at any moment,” Samael remarked, taking it just as an oddity, while Angie couldn’t hide her bewilderment.

“…It must be a business lunch, that’s what he told me when he left. My father’s very secretive with his clients, but I found some papers in the dining room the other day and that’s how I discovered he was her divorce lawyer. I didn’t say anything because I assumed it would be uncomfortable for Marianne,” Angie explained, trying to convince herself that the look and smile on her father’s face were just the ones he would devote to any of his clients, but then he reached out and took the woman’s hands with a twinkle in his eyes she knew very well, since it was the same everytime she looked at Samael. “…Oh, no.”

Despite being a sunny day with good weather, as soon as he crossed the cemetery entrance, Demian couldn’t help a chill down his spine. More than the place itself, it was the reason why they were there: visiting their parents’ grave.

Since his father’s burial, he hadn’t set a foot on the cemetery, not because he didn’t want to, but because it would hopelessly remind him that he was the reason both of them were dead, and he wasn’t ready to deal with the dark truth he kept hidden.

“What’s the problem? Are you coming or not?” Vicky asked as he stopped a few steps from the entrance.

Demian seemed to come out of his reverie and looked at Vicky. He couldn’t afford to relapse there, not with his sister around.

“…I’m right behind you,” he said with a nod.

They crossed the paths between the tombstones, Vicky carrying a large bouquet of flowers and a basket while Demian tried to distract himself by looking around the trees, following her. He tried to empty his mind, to cast away the details of what happened that fateful night when he had killed his mother amid a demonic trance, but it was impossible not to think about it when the reason they were there was precisely the anniversary of her death.

“Looks like someone was ahead of us,” Vicky commented and Demian finally looked up front. They had reached the family mausoleum and right outside of it there was a bunch of lilacs, their mother’s favorite flowers. “I’m amazed that there’s still people in town who remember her; it’s touching.”

“It’s probably the caretaker. Dad paid him to keep it in good condition.”

“Well, anyway, it’s still sweet that he keeps doing it after—” Vicky drowned out her voice before she could even finish her sentence. It was still hard for her to talk about their father’s death, so fresh in her memory.

Demian decided to go ahead and took a key to open the mausoleum’s steel doors. As he did, images of her mother’s lifeless face under the balcony invaded his thoughts, suddenly transforming into his father. He shook his head, hoping to scare them away while pushing the door and stepping aside to let Vicky in.

Two marble tombstones were erected at the bottom, one of them recently built, and Vicky headed to the one that seemed older, setting the flowers she was carrying.

“I hope you like them, mom. They’re your favorites.” Then she crossed to the other one while Demian kept his distance, his face contorted with guilt and squeezing his hands in his pockets. “I didn’t forget about you, dad. We brought something special for you. The one you liked.”

She placed a bottle of wine above the tomb right out of the basket and with her gloved hand began to clean the surface in silence until she stopped for a moment, with her back to Demian. He said nothing; he knew the feeling and chose to give her some space. It didn’t feel right to comfort her, being responsible for their deaths.

Vicky finally straightened up and took a breath, then turned to him with a weak smile.

“…Well, I think it’s time to go. Do you want me to leave you a few minutes alone with mom and dad?”

“No, I—I’m fine. Let’s go,” he said, avoiding her gaze so she wouldn’t notice the guilt in his eyes.

Vicky went out of the mausoleum followed by him, and as he closed the door, she waited a few feet away, staring at the sky.

“It’s a beautiful day, don’t you think?”

Demian glanced at the sky too, and although he normally wouldn’t have stopped to admire the day at a moment like that, he immediately understood her intention. Despite the tragedies, there were still things worth appreciating. He smiled back in silent agreement and they both were ready to leave.

While they were walking, some sort of distant tune got to their ears. It was weird, but they kept going until they heard it again, this time closer. They looked around, trying to find the source. Several feet further, an object between a tree and a grave suddenly caught Demian’s attention. He bent down to pick it up out of curiosity. It was a cell phone.

“What you got over there?”

“…Someone must have lost his phone,” he said, cleaning it up and opening it to figure out who it belonged to. His face lit up with surprise when he saw the screen with several missed calls. All of them from Marianne.