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Secret of The Night
Dear boys all over the world: trying to kill a girl is definitely not the best way to get a girl's attention, but it is THE most effective.
I was pretty average for a 16 year old, ok? Normal (in a way) personality, slightly wavy brown hair, kinda dorky glasses, a total nerd, and pretty boring. So...ordinary, right? Wouldn't you say so? All my life, my one goal was simple. To fit in. Now, me being me, that was understandably hard. It took a few years, but eventually I had myself a small group of friends who didn't mind my presence. So, when i found out that the entire group all had boyfriends, can you guess what I did next? Easy. Next goal in life: to get myself a man.
Well, that didn't exactly go as planned. For one, I personally didn't want all the responsibilities that came with boyfriend-girlfriend nonsense. Two, I kinda had a thing against guys... Long story. I'll share later. And three, well, that's the story.
"Vivi, look there!" Marigold grabbed my arm and discreetly whisper-shouted in my ear. Just walking back from school together. Normal Monday afternoon. Nothing amiss here. I turned to the left.
"What?" I only saw the huge cafe that had been there for ages. The 5 of us Mica High girls, Rhia, Yvonne, Erica, Mari, and I used to hang out there a lot. Like everyday, but now they changed owners and we don't go there anymore but it didn't look much different than its usual worn-down self. Same red overhang, which looked very under-the-weather, same big plastic door ringed in dark black, same clear glass window that still bore pictures of hearts and robots in brightly colored marker, thanks to the cafe's rule that kids were free to draw on the huge glass window (with the unspoken condition that their parents purchase something from the menu). I didn't see anything that seemed wrong or out of place.
"Don't look like that!" Mari clutched my arm and started staring forward with large bright eyes, much resembling a tanuki (little bear thing found in japanese animation stores).
"Then how am i supposed to see what you mean?" I rolled my eyes in frustration and pulled us to the side of the street in case Mari made a scene.
"Ok, look. Don't stare like a retard, but look at that guy. At the table. 5, I think. Next to the counter," Marigold sneaked a peek into the window but quickly pulled her head and neck out of sight again. "Don't look now, though. He's staring." She waited five seconds and tried to sneak a peek again, but again pulled back after a second. "Or now." Mari continued this routine several times, all the while with me standing at the side, arms crossed and a (presumably) dour look on my face. The girl was sweet at times, but honestly, her head was full of marshmallow fluff. Fact.
"Kay, now you can look." Mari reached behind her and started poking randomly without ever glancing behind her.
"Alright. Just stop poking me, girl." I swatted at her hands and then stepped on my tiptoes and peeked above her head. Table 5...table 5.......near the counter......guy..... And then i saw him.
Well, maybe. I didn't figure out if Mari meant the old dude or the smoking hot boy sitting across from him. Judging from her wide adoring eyes, I assumed she meant the latter. Mari was the only girl other than me still boyfriend-less in our small clique of 5: Me, Mari, Yvonne, Rhiannon and Erica. So of course her eyes would light up like Christmas decorations at the sight of a hot guy.
"......Oh. Him." I shrugged like I didn't care and pulled on her sleeve to let her know we should keep going. "Come on or we'll miss the bus."
"The bus?" Mari screeched indignantly. "At a time like this? Take a look at the fella! You listen to me, Vivian Emilia Reilly. A good, long look!"
Apparently, she was dissatisfied with my answer of 'oh. him.'
I sighed. And did as she said. "Yeah, I'm not blind, Mari. You mean the pale guy with the black hair, right? Table 5, next to the counter? Sitting with that old white-haired dude."
"THE guy. He's the guy." Mari sighed dramatically and pretend-swooned.
"Fine, fine. If i ask him for his name, will you pick yourself off of the ground and we'll go?" I gave her a strained smile and patted her head like she was a puppy I was giving a treat to.
"Really? You would do that, Vivi?" Mari immediately jumped up and threw her arms around me. I grinned and shook my head. "On second thought, do you mind asking him if he'll go out with me? I'll stand right here so he can see. I'm sure he won't say no though." She straightened herself and swept her waist-length dyed silver and golden hair over one shoulder and stuck out her C-cups. I laughed at her confidence and pushed her off.
"Ok, wait here." When Mari released her hold on me, I stood up straight and walked to the door, pushing it open. The teeny bell on the top let out a tiny cling. I looked around. Other than the guy and his grandpa sitting at table 5, the cafe was empty. None of the waiters were even there. I smiled internally. Great. No one else would be here to witness me asking this guy for his name. But on the bad side, if he tried something, even if I whipped out with my ninja moves, there'd be no witnesses.
Steadily, I started walking toward the table, my hand going to my back pocket and clutching my phone, 911 on speed-dial. My backpack had a police-issued Taser (purchased via Amazon shipping) and a bottle of pepper spray (given to me by my father. I insisted on the pepper spray, which was a wise move, considering that the other choice he had given me was a .54 caliber tranquilizer handgun).
Stopping in front of the man, whose back was facing me, I coughed. Yes, i know, not the best way to start a conversation, but it was the only thing I could think of on the spot. "Excuse me, could you tell me your name please?" I looked directly at THE guy while speaking.
He was staring at me while I approached, so I knew that he knew that I had arrived at the table. He sniffed the air. "Me?" He looked around, searching for someone else I might have been referring to. There was no one else in the cafe. He turned back around in his seat and inhaled deeply. I groaned. Obviously Rhiannon's 'discovery' from Bath and Body Works made me smell like a circus clown dipped in sugar and cinnamon. "My name? It's Yoru. Yoru Tomokoroshi. Why?"
I got a good look at him. Pale skin, with the veins pulsing visibly (not in a gross way, just in a omg-so-pale way), black hair, darker than night, and those twin bright lapis lazuli eyes. "Um. Well. My friend, Marigold, kinda..." I started mumbling and rushing my words. "-wants to go on a date with you. Like a get-to-know-you thing. Just to see." I sighed at my own bad habit of rambling then looked at Yoru to see his reaction.
Nothing. Not the slightest twitch of the eyes, or wrinkle of the nose in disgust, or widening of the mouth. No reaction, whatsoever. Man this guy had confidence!
"Ok. Is she here?" Like getting asked out by total strangers was an everyday thing for him.
I gaped. Then pointed at the window where Marigold stood, wide smile plastered on her face and head tilted demurely to the right.
He sized her up, eyes roaming until she squirmed uncomfortably. Then he turned back to me, "Yeah. Sure. On one condition," he lifted up his index finger like a drill sergeant giving directions. When I nodded to show my agreement, he looked directly at me and spoke in that silky smooth voice of his. "For you to go out with me. Understand?"
I gaped again. I'm pretty sure he was already starting to think I was an idiot, given the number of times I had gaped already. This afternoon sure wasn't going the way I had expected it to. I kept staring at him until I felt my voice return to me. But when it returned it wasn't me speaking. "Um. Ok. But her first then."
Yoru smiled a small, deceptive smile, the kind you make when you hide from the cops and they manage not to find you. I nearly ran out of the cafe right there, but we were still in the middle of a conversation. I gripped my pepper spray harder. The smile turned normal after a second. If normal had been redefined to mean jaw-droppingly hot. I stared.
"So. Tomorrow then? And you the day after?" He smirked at me while I tried my best not to drool over the beauty in front of me.
I nodded. "Okay."
"Then it's settled. Looking forward to it! Both days," Yoru smiled normally and grabbed my hand. I was too shocked to tell him to let go. He held it for almost a minute, during which time i involuntarily found myself staring into those deep pools of dark swirling blue. Then he squeezed my hand, breaking the spell, and let go. "See you on Wednesday."
I grinned like an idiot and nodded, then went outside to tell Mari the news. On the way out, I heard Yoru's old man companion say something to him that sounded like, "Oh, Yoru. You're going to break that poor girl's heart, right?" I shook off the grim comment as bad hearing on my part then pushed the door of the cafe open again, hearing the satisfying cling behind me.
"After me, you asked him out on another date?" Incredulous, Mari stared at me with wide eyes as I told her the story of how my trip went. "He really agreed to going on a date with me?"
I didn't tell her that he had asked me out on the date after her, because i knew from personal experience that Mari's feelings were easily hurt and that one should tread lightly when it came to revealing news. The slightest thing could set her off, and when that happened, there was no way we were gonna go home on time.
I sighed and nodded again. It was the third time she had asked this question already. Though it was cute every time she made me say how her dream guy had agreed to going on a date with her, her eyes got all soft and she started staring at nothingness with this dopey look on her face.
"Contain yourself until tomorrow, ok, Mari? Don't show that you're a weirdo just yet." I grinned at that last comment and so did she.
"Hai, hai, O-kaa-san (ok, ok, mother)," Mari laughed and flipped her long silver and gold hair over her shoulder as she stood up from her crouch. She grabbed my arm again and then turned back to the see-through cafe window and waved at Yoru, staring at us intently from his seat in Table 5. I managed a small finger wave too. He smiled back and waved at Marigold, but his intense cobalt blue stare was pinned on me. My breath caught in my throat and my palms began sweating. Just what was it about those eyes that made me melt into puddles of Vivi-scented water? I quickly put a hand on Marigold's cashmere-sweater-clad back and led her away from the window. And that stare.
"Ohhh, I literally can't wait until tomorrow, Vivi! It's going to be the best day ever!" Mari sighed, lost in her own romantic world. I nodded, but my mind was clearly elsewhere.
I woke up and got to school, per usual. Mari insisted on going there as early as possible, so she left the house at 8 am to go to the cafe. Yoru said that the date was at 3 pm in the afternoon, but Mari was apparently VERY excited. I sighed when she called me at 1:14 am to get a recap of my talk with Yoru the day before. I was just about to go to sleep, but Mari's thoughtful call woke me up.
"Mari," I exasperatedly told her. "It's two o' clock in the morning."
"I know, Vivi! Im just so excited about tomorrow! So tell me again what happened." Mari's chirpy and sweetly cheerful voice woke me up enough so that I could give her the details. One more time. Joy.
So after a long long talk about Yoru, she was satisfied and thanked me. I could practically hear her big goofy grin on the other end of the phone. I rolled my eyes and sighed, but I really was happy for her. It had been a while since Mari was so excited about something. I hung up, happy for my friend but now a little dejected for myself as well. I never felt so empty before. It was probably just the lack of sleep.
In school, my head was in the clouds. Not thinking about Marigold, but about Yoru. I didn't understand why, but I couldn't seem to concentrate on x and y problems when Yoru's blue eyes kept floating on the edge of my vision. Those blue, blue eyes that seemed like they could pierce right through me and whatever wall I kept myself secluded in. The stare that seemed flaming hot and freezing cold at the same time.
Well, I was a little worried about Mari's safety, like any good friend would, but the more I thought about Mari, the more I thought about who she was with, and that led to a whole string of unnecessary thoughts that eventually made me incapable of solving any kind of trigonometry.
HIS face kept showing up whenever I drifted off, as the teacher wasn't looking. The dark black hair framed his face perfectly, directly corresponding with his whiter-that-white pallor. His high, high cheekbones. And most strikingly, those dark, reflective, mesmerizing pools of blue.
After the torturous day had ended, I went home and watched some of my favorite television shows online, as well as flicking on the TV and browsing for some reality shows. I had a brief chat with my mom, and got scolded by my dad when he found out that on today's test, I hadn't even scored a passing grade. Grades weren't exactly the one thing on my mind today. I couldn't exactly tell him that I had been daydreaming about a beautiful, blue-eyed, black-haired boy all day long, so I hung my head in shame and accepted his criticism.
When I retreated back to my room after my dad's hour long lecture, I sighed and flipped up my MacBook. Scrolling the web and checking my status wasn't the best thing to do, but it sure as hell cured my boredom, at least for the moment. Nope, Mari hadn't posted anything. I sighed again, and then lay on my bed, just waiting for the minutes to tick by.
Eventually, nearing 4 pm, my phone started ringing with Mari's customized ringtone that was the song Dangerous Woman by the artist Ariana Grande.
Something bout you........ makes me feel like a dangerous woman..... something bout, something bout, something bout you..... makes me wanna do things that I shouldn't......
"Finally. Took her long enough." I dragged myself off my queen-size bed and slipped on my indoor bunny shoes. Padding over to my desk, I picked up my phone and held it to my ear. "Mariiiiiii," I whined playfully. "Why you take so long??"
"LOL, sorry, Vivi. Today was absolutely amazing." Mari's voice turned soft and dreamy and I immediately felt envious of her day. "I waited until 12 for him to come. He came three hours early for me! It was so sweet."
Seeing her so happy (or hearing, whatever. Spare me the technicalities), I couldn't bring myself to point out that she had waited for him since 8 am. I smiled and told her to go on.
"Well, then we went to see a movie. Now You See Me 2. Remember, Vivi? We both saw it together with Erica and Yvonne recently. Rhiannon had something or other to do. I already watched it, but I didn't tell him since he seemed pretty excited. The movie theater was really dark, darker than most. We watched the 3-D version and halfway through he put his hand on mine in the middle seat. I think I melted, even thought the A.C. was on full-blast." Mari laughed at herself and waited for me to comment before resuming her story.
"Wow, sounds awesome. Did you have fun?"
"Patience, my strange friend. The movie lasted two and something hours but it was fun. Then we went back to the cafe where we met for some post-movie drinks. Yoru stopped on the way at a street stand and bought two umbrellas. It was only drizzling, slightly, but I thought it was a sweet gesture so I accepted. Trying to overlook the fact that mine was bright pink and his was deep blue. Sexist much, huh?"
I laughed outright and mumbled an "Uh-huh. Go on."
"So we went back to the cafe and ordered some drinks there. I got um....wait, gimme a second... i think it was a mocha latte. Pretty crappy quality, but like that was the most prominent thing on my mind." I could practically see Mari rolling her eyes.
"What'd he get?" I wondered out loud.
"Nothing. He didn't get anything. I asked him why and he said he didn't like anything they had on the menu and that this was simply his place to talk, not to buy drinks. So i was like, seems legit."
I laughed again.
"then we just talked. Not much after that." Mari paused. "Well, I did keep staring at him for a long time when he started staring at the manager of the store. She was a really big woman, plump and red-cheeked with pigtails. He stared at her with THE eyes, HIS eyes. I guess this was a little early to start feeling jealous, so I just looked at him. I didn't see him that well in the beginning when we met, so this was a good opportunity. And Vivi, damn is he hot."
I giggled. "that it?"
"Yeah that’s it. It was a great day, Vivi. You should look forward to tomorrow." I detected a small hint of jealousy in her voice but passed it off as normal. After all, I expected any girl to be jealous in Mari's position. It was natural. Very natural.
I quickly ended the call with a brief "mmhm" and a hasty "see you tomorrow in school then."
She 'mmhm'ed me back and hung up.
I stared up at the ceiling. Yoru's face floated in front of me again but I quickly banished that thought. I jumped on my swivel chair, pushed over to my laptop, and lived the rest of my day like any other dreary Tuesday afternoon.
Morning light filtered in through the curtains and I gracefully stretched my arms as I got out of bed.
No. No fairy tale story beginning. This is reality.
My alarm clock went off like the world was on fire. Groaning, I rolled over in bed and pulled the covers over my head, which exposed my feet. That felt cold, so I tucked myself into a little round ball of Vivi and groaned again. Ugh. Wednesdays were always awful, in my opinion. Smack dab in the middle of the week. Thursdays and Fridays you can look forward to the weekend. Mondays and Tuesdays you can still feel the weekend. But Wednesday there's nothing to look forward to, and absolutely no hope whatsoever in your life. Excuse me for that little detour into the mind of the one and only Vivi Emilia Reilly.
My older brother Liam banged on my door, telling me impatiently to quote unquote get your ass in the bathroom and make it quick. He's my ride to school, so sadly I can't piss him off in the mornings.
I threw a fuzzy green pillow at the door and silent-shouted insults at it.
Quiet. Liam must've left to get his morning bacon and eggs.
Then I stuffed my face back into my sky blue duvet and sighed, breathing in the smell of blissful sleep. Bliss that ended way too soon.
Liam banged one more time on my door, impatient and angry as always. I guess he didn't really leave. I wrinkled my nose, sighed, and threw the covers off me with a majestic sweep of my hand and sniffed. I somehow always got my memory of the previous days back by sniffing. Another queer Farrell trait, I suppose. It just..... i don't know how exactly, happens.
I swung my short underdeveloped legs off the high 4-foot mattress and frame and stuffed my feet into fluffy bunny slippers awaiting me faithfully beside my bed. Standing up took a while, with my disoriented sense of the world upon waking. Eyes still half closed, I stumbled into the bathroom zombie-style and completed my usual morning clean-up: brush teeth, gurgle, wash face, lotion, then pee. I walked out of the small area feeling refreshed and ready to face anything.
Well, anything but an angry Liam glaring down at me.
"What took you so long, girl? Peeing does NOT take that long!!" He puffed up his cheeks and stretched up to his height of 5'9", obviously towering over my frame of 5'3". Yes, that's it. Yes, I'm short.
I meekly mumbled an excuse that I took a shower, an obvious lie, but he was either too hungry to care or too drowsy to doubt me.
He continued glaring at me until I disappeared into my room to change into school clothes for the day. Red frilly top and some skinny jeans. I gave myself a quick once-over in the mirror, then reconsidered and exchanged the top for a light blue button-down shirt, then put on a necklace strung with gold and pearly white beads.
I nodded formally at my reflection, then threw my bag over one shoulder, grabbed my violin case, and stuck my phone between my teeth to hold onto it. Stomping down the stairs, I finally reached the bottom of the staircase and tossed my stuff onto one of the black Barcelona chairs my dad likes so much none too gently. But he isn't awake, so who cares?
I walked into the kitchen, grabbed an apple perched weirdly on the toaster, and then joined my scowling brother at the table.
After we finished our breakfast of a single fried egg and a toasted piece of bread, we each grabbed our stuff from a Barcelona chair (See, Dad? It's not just me) and walked down the steps to the front door. Liam got out first, unlocking and pushing open the door then going out without a word or glance behind him. I whispered a small "We'll be leaving now," to the eerily quiet house so as to not wake my parents.
Liam was already waiting in the car, so I joined him in the passenger seat and waited for him to get the engine started then back out of the driveway. He sped a little on the interstate, but it was 6 am and I didn't really mind too much since all windows were up.
When we finally got to school, I glanced at my schedule. Ugh. Math. Why do school superintendents or whoever decides the classes feel it necessary to put Math as a first-period class? Come on! I mean, it's Wednesday, and you give me math? The cruelty of the world stings my heart.
I entered the classroom. No surprise, I was fifth there. Only the really dorky guys came in so early on a Monday morning. They all had on matching shiny silver shoes, no doubt thinking that made them look "cool" and all. Well, whatever. I try not to judge.
"Hey Danny! And Jack and Richard, too," I waved at the boys and sat down at my seat. The desks were all arranged in neat columns; my seat was the third one in the fourth column.
"I'm Darren, by the way," the fourth boy whose name I forgot to mention piped up.
"Oh. Sorry about that," I gave him a sheepish smile. All four of them stared at me in adoration. Um, I thought, turning around in silence. Weirdos. I stared down at my desk, my neck burning from the stares of the four guys. Then the 8:00 bell rang and the rest of my classmates poured in. Late, as usual the teacher casually strolled in at around 8:10, bringing our attention to the front of the room.
"Alright, class, as you well know, today you have a small test. All ready?" The teacher nodded to himself as he surveyed the room. "Ok then. Let's get started. You guys know the drill. Keep the test face down on your desk until given further instructions. Got it?" Without waiting for an answer, he passed out 5 test papers to every person in each column for them to pass down through that group of students eagerly (NOT) awaiting the test. Or quiz. Or quest or whatever they're calling it now. Some strange name I can never remember.
I stared at my test. I studied for this, so why weren't any answers coming to mind? I couldn't fail the test, considering I always tell Mari to get her head out of the clouds and study more with such a pompous attitude. I'd be such a hypocrite then. No, I decided. I didn't want that. Taking a deep breath to calm my nerves, I put pen to paper and started the test.
40 minutes later, I looked up from my work. The test was completed and the teacher was busying himself collecting the papers. I gave my test a last one-over before handing it to the person in front of me, who had their hand outstretched behind their back.
The bell had rung, and the teacher dismissed us from math, apologizing for making us a little late to our next class. I looked at my schedule again. Next is.... I ran my finger down the column until I found the right class. World History. Oh, joy. Now i have to try and not fall asleep. This class had one of the most boring teachers ever, an elderly lady in her 70s. She could drone on and on for hours on the same topic. Ugh. Good luck to me.
The rest of the morning continued as such. Boring, and utterly un-fascinating. I wanted something to happen. You know, a miracle or something. Big. Not life-threatening. I wasn't stupid, no matter how much I wanted some excitement. At least I got a momentary relief from the uselessness of class during lunchtime. The group and I always ate together, in the cafeteria on a table surrounded by other people chattering about. Yvonne and Rhiannon were chatting up a storm on one side of the white table, no doubt talking about their newfound boyfriends. Mari sat quietly besides them, and from the look on her face, I don't think she was all too pleased to see me. Erica started talking the second she sat down next to me, and i started to tune her out, my mind focused on inner thoughts. Then the bell rang again, signifying the return of classes. Moaning spread like wildfire throughout the student body, every person depressed at the thought of returning to classes. Yvonne and Erica grin at me when we said our goodbyes and stood to throw out our lunch trays. The entire student body began to shuffle out of the cafeteria in small groups back; Rhia and I walked out together.
The rest of the day was boring. But there's nothing new about that. When i finished my classes, I went down to the student lobby and met up with Rhia, Erica, and Yvonne. The 4 of us shouldered our bags, and with a brief girl-chat, walked out the huge double doors of Mica High. We split up at the train station, each going our own separate ways. Yvonne, the lucky duck, lived right next to the school so she got to wake up at 7 and gets home at 2:40, right on time. Rhia and Erica used Train 5 to get back home, and Mari and I took Train 7. We said our goodbyes, gave each other a quick hug, then Rhia and Erica went left and Mari and I went right.
We walked in somewhat awkward silence for a bit before Mari burst out with, "Hey, Vivi?"
"Mmmm?" I took my phone out from my back pocket and scrolled through my notifications before facing her.
"Do you" she paused without ever finishing her sentence. "Are you going to see him in that?" She stared daggers at my clothing choice.
"What? I think it looks fine." As usual, if I was put on the spot, my cheeks flamed instantly. Thanks a lot, easily affected blood vessels!
She looked at me dubiously. "Whatever. This is your big shot and you want to blow it in the first two seconds. That’s so like you."
Ok, girl. Back up. That one stung. Bros before hoes, come on what happened to that? And Yoru is hardly a hoe, I mean, she met with him twice. Twice.
But I didn't say any of that. I plastered a "LOL" face on me and giggled. Unlike her, I didn't want to lose such a carefully crafted friendship over a guy. Who I didn't know and who didn't know me. Even if this guy is the perfect yin to my yang.
I got off a stop earlier than usual to meet Yoru. I was already late, it being like 3:30 by the time I got to the cafe where I saw him with his ancient friend. The pink-cheeked manager was walking around and there were a few waiters lounging on the chairs meant for customers. They were empty today. I walked in and found a random seat then promptly got up again and walked over to the manager. "Do you know where Yoru Tomorokoshi is?" She shook her head and I walked back to my chair, resigned to wait for however long as this guy was planning on standing me up. Because, no matter what, I was not, like Marigold said, going to blow it. If this date was destined to blow up, I wasn't about to let that happen because of me. Because I wasn't here when he showed. Because-
The tiny bell at the top of the front door let out its signature ring and I turned my head, attracted by the chime. There he stood, in all his fine bad-boy glory. Ripped jeans and dressed in a tee that hugged his upper body in all the ways God intended. His hair was messy, but not that kind of messy that guys think looks hot when it actually just makes them look uncivilized and like they literally just rolled out of bed. This was different. The waves fell gently and the soft look was almost tangible. I blinked and those lips gathered into an infuriating little smirk, like he knew exactly what kind of effect he had on me. I hated being typical, but what could I do? The hormonal wave threatened to pull me under with the wave of pheromones that was currently overpowering me.
"Hey." a brief jut of his chin was his only acknowledgement of me. I screamed. Inside. His jawline was at a perfect 90 degree angle. God, why is this boy so perfect. So goddammed freaking perfect. It annoyed the hell out of me but I for sure wasn't about to tell him to kick the dust.
"Hi," came a cool voice that only slightly quivered. It came from me, though my mind sure didn't feel calm. "So what are we going to do today?"
My internal struggle must have been obvious because his smirk grew wider. He walked closer, and with each step I felt my heart racing faster and faster, thumping in my chest. One step. Two steps. Three. I could reach out and touch him, if I dared. Which I didn't. I pressed my lips together to keep from screaming.
He stepped back, annoyed. Obviously he was used to getting his way with girls easier. I didn't quite follow the norm. "Same thing I did with your friend, Marigold, was it? Movie, and then chill and hang around here," he spread his left arm in a wide arc as he said the last few words and looked back at me. I nodded. He looked pleased at my obedience. "Let's go then."
And out the door we went, little bell tinkling in our wake. We walked side by side, but Yoru's long strides kept him always a little bit ahead of me, and I had to speed up my pace to keep up. He rolled his eyes when he thought I wasn't looking, in a Why do I have to deal with this? way.
Hey, you asked me, mister. Deal with it.
When we got to the theater on 51st Street, Yoru asked the mannequin-smiling lady behind the plastic wall for a list of movies we could watch. She pulled out a pamphlet and handed it into his pale, pale hands with the pale, pale fingers. He opened the paper up, and I walked over to his side and peered at the fine lettering.
"You choose," Yoru, looking bored, handed the creased sheet to me. I was beginning to dislike this guy, but for some reason I was still wildly attracted to him. Whatever. I scanned the list, looking for one that might suit my weird horror/thriller/action/drama/psychological-themed preference.
"Can we watch this one?" I pointed, and held out the sheet for him to see. He leaned over, and laughed out loud. I saw two perfect rows of white teeth with incisors slightly extended unnaturally. Ok...... All the vampire horror movies I've watched in the past came back to me. But I shrugged it off as a birth mutation, convincing myself science would never let such a thing happen, and that all my fantasies were fake.
"Really?" He asked, incredulous. "Conjuring 2? Not Me Before You or something like that?" The fact that I chose a horror film over a girly romance story seemed to bowl him over with astonishment, hence the laugh. I smiled, although inside I groaned. Another guy who thinks every girl has to like romance. I actually happened to hate mushy stuff. "Ok then. Let's see it."
He walked over to the plastic smile lady behind the plastic wall in her little green booth made of plastic and arranged for the tickets. 2 for $26. I decided I'll pay him back later.
So we watched our movie, me with a big bag on popcorn situated on my lap and a Coke in the cup holder, and him with nothing. It really wasn't as scary as the reviews online made it out to be, to be honest, the first Conjuring movie was more gruesome than the 2nd. Maybe this time around the director felt sorry for the meek minded people sitting in the crowd. It didn't faze me at all, since I watched this kind of stuff with Rhia all the time, but I glanced over at Yoru to see how he was doing. He stared with a kind of ferocity at the screen, and his face right now was scarier than what was happening in the movie. I subconsciously leaned a little away from him, so all I saw was the silhouette of his dark hair, darker than the rest of the surroundings.
When the credits rolled, I stood up with my popcorn bag rolled up, grabbed my Coke can, and blabbered to Yoru that I desperately needed to use the bathroom. I ran out of there fast and slammed the metal lock on the door closed as soon as I got into a stall. I don't know what it was, but something felt off about this guy. Yeah, he was hot as f*ck, and Mari's description about him yesterday seemed alright, but I just don't know. He feels.... wrong. But I had no evidence or even any substantial theory to back me up, so I just gave up with my feeling; assumed it was just me never really having a cute boy look at me before.
We went to the cafe. Literally the same thing Mari had on her date yesterday. This was probably Yoru's go-to date night spot. I ordered a small coffee and a blueberry muffin (which I recently read on Cosmopolitan was the hottest pastry thing to share on a date with your prospective boyfriend). He, as usual, got nothing. I was beginning to feel a little fat.
"So, Vivi, which school do you go to?" Yoru sat down and stared at me as if genuinely interested. I couldn't hold out against those beautiful blue swirls.
"Mica High. What about you?"
"Oh, I don't go to a public school. You've probably never even heard of mine. It's private," Yoru linked his hands around his head and gave me that play-boy grin. He sneezed. Once. Twice. Three times. Andddddddddd four times. That ruined his perfect c***y smirk well.
"Oh my God, are you okay?" I stood up and ran to the cash register to grab him some tissues.
"Yeah, it's nothing, I'm quite alright. Just a tickle." He waved the tissues away with his signature annoyed look on his face and I sat down again. God he looked gorgeous. He was busy studying the tissue with a weird look on his face so I just kept staring straight forward. At that mane of silky black hair that threw the light when he moved his head. At that aquiline nose, at those cheekbones that jutted out, at those lips that were so, so crimson red. At most of all, at those downcast eyes that couldn't see me but I could see perfectly: the lashes dark as night that rimmed the twin blue moons floating symmetrically in a pale white orb.
"Hey, want to share this muffin? I'll eat half and you eat half." I cupped the muffin in my hand with the complementary wax paper and broke it. Pretty clean, if I do say so myself.
"No thanks. I don't like muffins," came the cool indifferent reply. Do you like anything, I wondered back as I stuffed the one half in the brown paper bag and bit into the bottom of the other half. I let the soft, fluffy batter with the sweet burst of fruit wash away the hurt at Yoru's rejection of my muffin-sharing idea.
We talked a bit more, about school, about siblings (He didn't have any), and about what we liked (He said he hates food in general and usually never chooses to eat in public). I learned some other weird stuff about him, like he lives in an orphanage and he has no family relations that he knows of.
"Well, then, do you have any friends?" If Mari was here, she would've smacked my arm and told me that was rude. But I just wanted a yes response out of this mysterious boy sitting in front of me.
He smiled an eerie little smile. Strange if you think about it. I just asked him if he had friends. "Yes. I do have friends. Many, many friends,"
Here's where I would say "Oh my, well, aren't you the popular kid?" with a teasing tone and maybe give him a sideways sexy look, but the way he answered kinda gave me goosebumps up my arms. I kept my mouth shut.
He got up and pushed his chair in. "Let's go."
"Wait, what? I haven't finished my coffee. And where are we going?" I protested as he grabbed his coat from the back of the chair he was sitting on and lifted my paper bag for me. Yoru, uncaring of my protests, waved goodbye and the manager, who was now standing behind the register with a plastered smile on her face. "We'll be outside," He called. She waved soundlessly back.
Yoru grabbed my hand and dragged me outside. MY HAND. WE TOUCHED. My face flamed up. Again. We walked, hand in hand, to between the cafe and the next building. Honestly, with the feel of his skin against mine, I would have done anything for him at that moment.
Further and further we walked, until the shadows of the stores enveloped our two bodies and it was pure quiet all around.
As I switched back into reality when my toe bumped a rock and my uneasiness grew, I slowly asked, "Um. Yoru? I don't feel right here. Can we walk back?"
"Yeah, hold up. It'll just be a second. I want to tell you something," He stopped us and twirled me around and held me, one hand on each shoulder. I stared wide at his eyes and bit my lower lip. His face had a dreamy look of passion on it. Did I want to be kissed on the first date? Normally, the answer was no, but I think I'll make an exception for him.
"Vivi, I-" he broke off as I lifted a hand to his face, fingers brushing that hair I've wanted to feel since I met him. That's when he grinned. "Guess what?"
And he grabbed the hand I lifted to touch him, twisted it toward him, and sank his teeth and those sharp incisors into my wrist. I've read plenty of fiction novels about vampires, and he did in fact meet all the criteria, but I was still shocked beyond belief. But all those books....they said the teeth of vampires had some sort of chemical mixed in so I would get drowsy and fall asleep, and also to dull my nerves so I wouldn't feel any pain. The second part was true, but I felt myself become more awake with every sip of my blood Yoru drank. Finally he let go, and I slumped to the floor, holding my wound.
"What? What?" I stared up at him and my fear must have shown because his grin widened even more, showing the blood on his mouth. My blood.
"You monster." I whispered. "You're a vampire?"
He looked down at me maniacally. "I'm upset you're not more surprised. I did just drink your blood. Yes and no, child. I am, as you say, a monster. Boo!" He held up his hands, which I now saw had clawed fingernails at the ends, and mocked me.
I was in no mood for joking. Actually I wasn't in a mood for anything right now.
"But, my sweet blooded Vivi, I am not a vampire. Oh no. Nothing as low as that. I'm a demon. But not just any demon, hun. Feast your eyes on the son of the royal family, next in line for the Tomorokoshi throne. But don't fret just yet, my dear. There's more." When I didn't respond with a proper groan or something like that he went on talking. "That wasn't just your blood I drank. My teeth are too good for that. I filtered out the rest of your disgusting liquid and focused on the best part." He stuck his tongue out at me. Normally that would seem childish to me but I just watched him in horror when I realized that it was forked. Split right in two, like a snake's. I think I really did tremble then. "Your life-blood, dearie. That's the best part, the ones the vampires aren't capable enough to get. Your memories, your past life, and your emotions, I've got a piece of that now."
I stared at him, barely processing the mumbo jumbo he was speaking. Something about life-blood, and memories.
Yoru blew me a kiss. It was like a mask fell off him. He didn't look that hot anymore, if I looked closer. His cheekbones weren't that pronounced, and his jawline wasn't so perfect. His lips weren't so red, and his eyes weren't really that blue. And he shrank an inch. I stared in disbelief. "Toodles, love. Your blood tasted awesome, I'll tell you that."
With that, he just poofed out of existence. One moment there full of life, and the next gone. No smoke, but I saw a shadow slithering away from the darkened alley.
I sat there, crumpled on the floor.
Oh, man, was I screwed. So this weird ass demon monster thing makes me fall in love with him and then goes ahead and drinks my life blood. And he's the son of the demon world. Mmhm. This s*** is my life. My 21st century life.
What the hell, God?
Sighing, I forced my legs into a bent position and put energy on my calves to support me. Crap. I was stuck. Not really stuck, more like that I didn't have enough energy to physically stand up. And so I waited.
When I was strong enough to actually bend my legs and exert enough pressure to hold up my own ass, I walked out of the alley and back to the street.
I think it's safe to say I was feeling pretty confused at the moment. Life-blood? Demon prince? Tomoro-whatever? I need answers, I thought. And I need them now. But whom could I ask? I can't just walk up to Mari and ask if he also drank blood from her. I'm pretty sure she would've told me if he had. You know, girl to girl advice about guys. Who knows stuff about him?
The old guy at the cafe. I stood up a little straighter, with a plan in mind. I walked past the stores with the white bridal dresses in the windowsill, past the ones with the Gucci handbags on display. Down Magnolia Street, and halfway down Reverend Avenue, I stopped. Looked through the glass window of the cafe I so often frequented and where I found the man/demon of my dreams/nightmares.
Pushing open the glass door, and hearing the familiar tinkle of the bell made me feel safe. I closed my eyes for a brief moment before opening them and staring at the occupants of the cafe. There he was. In the back. One person clad all in gray sitting in a 8-person table all by himself. How much free time does this guy have, to be sitting here all the time?
I walked over to his table. He looked behind me for a moment, but when I turned around, there was nothing there. When I pivoted back, he smiled at me, showing his teeth. Ok. No weirdly pointy incisors. That's good, right?
"Sit down," he invited. I sat down, directly opposite him. I was NOT getting friendly with this guy. "I'm sure you have questions for me."
Damn right I have questions. Your f*cking friend bit me and took my blood.
I bit my lip to keep from spewing curses at the man in front of me. "Yes. I do." He looked at me, and I looked back at him. "I want to know who Yoru really is. Why did he do what he did? And tell me what the hell is life-blood."
He nodded. "Fair questions." He looked around us to check if there were any eavesdroppers. None. He and I, the manager, and another old couple with their grandchild seated near the paint windows were the only people in the cafe. "Yoru is, as you probably know by now, a demon. He's not a vampire, though. Oh no."
"What's the difference," I asked.
He glared at me. Okayyy. So old graying man doesn't like to be interrupted when telling his demon story. "Vamps can only suck blood and live on that. Demons can do much more. At our prime, we can suck life-blood, which is so much more potent than all the regular filth floating around in your bloodstreams."
Hold up, old man. We?
I must have looked petrified because he answered my question without me even asking. "Yes, I'm a demon. A lesser one, though. You know how kings in the mortal world used to have eunuchs as advisors? Demons do, too. I'm Yoru's advisor. But I'm old and past my prime, so I can't do anything to you. So you can stop looking like I killed your dog now."
Oh ok. Good. That explains why he doesn't have sharp teeth. I relaxed a bit.
He took another breath, ready to continue. "Yoru is the prince of our world. The first heir to the throne of the Tomorokashi family's reign. He has special characteristics that we lesser demons do not possess. All the ruling family have this ability, but in Yoru this quality is most potent. He can take the life-blood of human mortals and add those years to his own. Basically, he stole 80 years from your life and gave it to himself. That's how he's been living so long. Also another difference between us and the vampires you mushy teenagers love to read about these days. They can live forever, but are dead. We do not live forever, but we are more alive than they are, because human blood remains in our system. If we drink once as a child, it can sustain our life to the same as a human's. If we drink more, we add a couple of years to the general 100. Life-blood, on the other hand, is unique. It adds 80 years, rather than just 3 or 4. That's how the Tomorokashis have been ruling for so long. That's why Yoru is so special."
The old man stopped and took a sip of his water, which the manager had brought over soundlessly halfway through his story. I leaned back in the wooden chair I sat in and sighed. What was I supposed to do now?
"Wait, so what do I do to get it back? Can I get my life-blood back?" I stared at the old man intensely, desperately hoping his next words would be 'yes.'
"Yes, you can." I breathed a sigh of relief and waited for him to go on. "You have to, if you want to live past 20. It's easy in theory. All you have to do is go down to the demon world, go to the Tomorokashi palace, find Yoru, and kill him."
"Oh that's awesome. So basically I have to go down to hell, find the sleaze bag that stole 80% of my life, and kill the son of a b****?" I looked at the old man, wondering how it could be so easy.
He smiled at me, no teeth this time. Suspicion crept up my spine like ivy vines stretching for the sun. I sensed a 'but.'
"Easier said than done, my friend. Yoru's our prince. We won't let him die so easily. Guess how many guards are around the palace. Guess how many guards are around his room. Guess how powerful he is. And that's assuming you make it down there alive. It's a treacherous journey. You sure you up for it?"
Like I have a choice. Dude stole my life. I kinda sorta want it back.
"Yup," I said it confidently but I felt anything but. "So how do I get to the demon world? I'm assuming there's no elevator."
"Not really. But the entrance is in this cafe. Go to the kitchen. There's a closet. Just go inside." His smile was taunting, more so than I would imagine an old man such as himself could feel.
I sneered back at him with as much contempt as I could convene in my trembling state. He smiled condescendingly at me and left the cafe, tinkling bell in his wake.
I got up and walked to the back, where the kitchen entrance was. The manager stopped me and handed me a thick burlap bag. "Here. You'll need this," I started at the sound of her voice. It was deep and manly. "Relax. I'm human. I just know what they are. They took my brother's life-blood too. The ruling king did. He went down there. He just didn't come back," her eyes cast downwards in grief.
"I'm sorry," I really didn't know what else to say. I probably wouldn't come back either.
"But I guess it's better to die trying than to just give up. Your 20th birthday is probably approaching. You have until then to find him," the lady stared up at me pitifully.
Uncomfortable with her gaze, I moved the zipper of the back and rummaged inside. 3 water bottles, 9 packets of dried fruit, 10 dried jerky bags, a flashlight, a matchbox, some rope and a bottle of some kinda perfume.
I hardly needed perfume down in the underworld, but I mean, this lady meant well, I guess.
I zipped it closed and swung it onto my back.
"I can't fit any more in there. It'll be too heavy for you to move, then. You need your flexibility down there," Ms. Manager nodded at me. "Go."
"Thank you," I murmured, still trembling. One foot in front of the other, I walked to the closet the old man mentioned. It looked like a normal storage closet, brown wood streaked with different hues of chestnut. I put one hand on the antique silver doorknob and opened the door. It was pitch black inside. Like a hole that could suck up anything and anyone. Like it was ready to eat me and never let me go.
I turned back to look at the woman briefly. She gave me an encouraging smile, although I saw her hands. Resting by her side in clenched fists.
I guess I'm in for the vacation of a lifetime.
I took a breath, and stepped.
I fell and fell and fell. Almost like there was no bottom. That closet was seriously messed up. I looked down. Light!
Wait. Light? That exists down here?
It was just a tiny speck though. But compared to the receding walls of blackness in whatever tube I was falling through, it was a bright star waiting to explode into a supernova. On the brink of enlarging. And so, so, cl--
I popped my head out of the debris, gasping for air. Taking a quick 360 view of where I ended up, I made a face. It was a pile of leaves that I landed in. A pile of old, dirty leaves. Upon my closer inspection, the leaves were like regular leaves. A little dirt here and there, but still the same veiny and flimsy ovals I had grown up with. There were trees, too. Big oak and sequoia pines jutting out from their roots. They lined a stone path that was right in front of me, like those flowering trees lining the path that the guy and the girl walk on in dramas. Only.... they were black.
Everything down here was black. Either black or white or gray. The leaves were white. The dirt was, of course, black. The stone path was gray, because, you know, it's made out of stone. The trees were black, tinted with silver. The sky was pitch black. It was like a 1940 photograph come to life. I looked down at my pastel yellow sweatshirt, with the neon green lettering. I sucked in a breath, goose bumps spreading up arms and tickling my barely-there arm hairs.
When I got enough of my common sense back to move my feet and step out of the leaf pile, I heard a muffled yell.
"What the f*ck?" I'm ashamed to say I screeched. But hey, cut me some slack, I'm already in hell.
I lifted my foot up. A head popped up next to me, startling me enough to stumble back into the pile.
"Darren?" I stared at him, incredulous.
He looked at me indignantly, an angry 'why'd you step on me' look on his face. "Um. Hi-i, Vi-vi," he stammered, all the previous bravado flown who knows where.
I turn around and breathe a sigh of exasperation. So I ended up in the underworld all by myself, and my knight in shining armor turns out to be stalker number 4 from my math class?
I turn back around.
"What?" I angrily throw the words across the distance that separates us.
He flinches. "Where are we?" Darren looks around, confused.
I laugh before pulling him and myself out of the leaf pile. "You don't even know where you are? Why the hell did you follow me down here then? How did you get here?"
"The lady at the shop you were at before said you needed some help. She saw me wandering in after you. I... followed you after I saw you come out of the alley," he suddenly became very interested in the pattern of the dirt on the light gray ground.
Well. The manager lady was right. I did need help. Oh, but why couldn't she have sent some better help? He didn't even look that much stronger than me!
"I have a bag. The lady told me to take it before I jumped down that weird-looking closet thing," he swung the pack on his back around to show me. Heavy burlap, like mine. I grabbed it, smiling. I pulled the zipper open so fast it almost got stuck and confirmed what I had been thinking. The same provisions, only more! She must have assumed that he was strong enough to carry all this.
I laughed, genuinely this time, and patted the poor guy on his back. His hands and legs were trembling. "Oh, stop it. I'm not that scary. Wait 'til you hear where we are to shiver in fear."
Darren picked his head up immediately and stared at me with huge eyes. "What?"
"We're in Hades," I said solemnly, my face a grave depiction of all the horrors soon to befall us. I giggled at his shock, felt pity on him, and put a smile on my face again. "We're in hell. Pretty much. I have to find this demon thing-prince Yoru and get my soul back and then I can get us outta here. I'm sure he can, anyway. So you have to help me. I'm your only way out of this mess."
He looked at me. "Seriously?" It looked like he didn't believe me, but when I showed him the colorless surroundings and the black sky, he gritted his teeth and clenched his fists.
"Yeah... so we should hurry," I turned around and started walking on the path. I got about three steps before I realized the person carrying my extra food wasn't following. Swiveling back, I glared at Darren. A small movement caught my eye. The leaf pile suddenly got a little bit flatter, like someone had stepped on it. I brushed off my concern as some strange hellish wind.
"Hello? Where are we going?" he looked at me strangely.
Good question. I stared past the tree branches and saw the tall white peaks of a castle with Gothic architecture. It stood out terribly amongst the black sky and silver trees. Plus, it was the only building in this hellhole.
I pointed. "There." Darren followed the path of my finger and dropped his jaw. I walked past him calmly, hefting my pouch of life supplies onto one shoulder. A couple of seconds later, I heard heavy footsteps behind me, a sure sign Stalker #4 was following.
We walked in silence for a while, neither one of us saying anything. I kept staring ahead, but Darren glanced my way whenever he got the chance. If I looked back at him, he turned away quickly. A grin tugged at the corner of my lips but I kept it down. One foot in front of the other, we marched like good little soldiers towards our destination.
"So, Vivi. What have you been doing?" he looked over at me, questioningly. "What was your favorite part about it?" Really, man? We're in literal hell, and you want to hit on me?
I decided to entertain him. "Not much. Just, I got asked out." He looked at me with enormous sad puppy dog eyes. "By a demon. Who then drank my blood and gave me no choice but to come down here to find him." His eyes widened.
"Oh," he mumbled. "Is that who we're going to see? A demon? Prince?"
I nodded silently. I wasn't too pleased with the idea either, but what could I do? I want to live over 20.
We walked together again, the awkward silence becoming a depressed one, both of us wallowing in the despair of our mutual hopeless situation. The toe of my shoe caught onto a stray rock on the stone path, and I stumbled, flailing my arms wildly. Darren shouted a warbled sound before sticking out an arm to catch me before I split my head open. He reeled his arm in, pulling me with him.
He's stronger than I thought.
When both of my feet hit the ground solidly, he let go and put a hand behind his neck sheepishly. "Sorry."
I was staring at him, but I shook myself quickly. "No, it's ok. Thanks." I pivoted back to facing the castle, head tilted.
Ummmmmmm. That was weird.
I kept walking, and soon enough he followed meekly behind. We only managed to get a few feet from where we were just standing when Darren let out a yell that sounded like a scream that also sounded like a shout.
"What? What's wrong now?" I ran back to him and followed his gaze.
A bunny. A white one, like in the real world, with small beady eyes. I breathed out the breath I had been holding in. It looked like it could fit in the palm of my hand, and so out of place nestled in the black-branched bush.
I patted Darren on the back. "It's a bunny, bro. There are bunnies down here." I laughingly shook my head in mock annoyance and started to walk again.
Only when I heard a noise behind me did I turn around again. "What is it now, Darren? I said it's a bunny!" I spoke in abrupt anger but trailed off once I saw the huge monstrosity looming in front of me, Darren in its right claws.
"Vivi, help," he pleaded me with his eyes.
"Darren!" I screamed, my arms shaking and suddenly feeling light-headed. I held a hand to my forehead. A breeze comes, carrying dewy mist, and cooled me down. I gratefully shook it off and grabbed a blackened stick on the ground, facing the monster. "Put him down, you freak! I need this guy to help me!"
The monster looked at me with its huge black eyes.
Hey, weren't they tiny eyes before?
It gave me a look, like, you're such a tiny ant. Why should I listen to you? I figured it had a point. I mean, was there really anything I could do to take on that thing? It made a noise that kind of sounded like a laugh, mocking my uselessness. I bit my lip, mind running a mile a minute. Darren shouted again, his eyes full of pain. I grimaced in sympathy.
I hefted my stick again, and charged at the monster. Now, you'd think I'd run away screaming in this kind of situation, but I had a plan. I slammed the stick into the soft backing of the monster's knee. The stick shattered, but not before puncturing some skin. The huge obese rabbit-thing howled and opened his fist, releasing Darren, who fell to the ground and lay there motionless.
I hurried over while the monster was busy inspecting its wound. "Are you okay?" I poked Darren's prone body with a finger, prodding him without stop. The bag seemed ok, but I didn't want to shift him to check on material goods, so I ignored it. He opened his eyes around my 200th poke and looked up at me.
"Yeah, but still hurts like hell," Darren sat up and groaned, holding his stomach. He lifted his shirt enough for me to see a huge developing bruise, already turning a dark indigo hue. He flicked his eyes up and fixated on something behind me. "Look out!" he shouted, grabbing my shoulders and rolling our bodies away.
The monster's claw struck the dirt where Darren had lain just a few seconds previous, and moaned when it hit the hard floor. I started chewing on the inside of my lip, a nervous habit I picked up somewhere in 3rd grade. I would've been monster-skewered if Darren didn't react fast enough. I turned around to thank the guy, but he was back to tending to his wound.
I widened my eyes, all of a sudden remembering something. "Oh my god, the lady gave me something back then. I thought it was just perfume," I said excitedly to Darren while furiously going through my bag. "Where is it, where is it, where is it?" I mumbled incoherently to myself, hands moving with a nervous anxiety. "Got it!" I held my trophy up high for all to see.
A small clear glass spray canister. With some funny-colored liquid inside. Darren looked at me dubiously. "That's supposed to solve our problem? Give me the stick, I'll handle this guy."
Wow. Just when I thought he might actually be a sweet guy. Sexist nerd.
"Shut up," I hurled back. "I saved your ungrateful ass. I can do this." I got up quickly and held my weapon in front of me, approaching the monster that sat cross-legged on the dirt floor, holding his claw.
Aw, baby got a broken nail! I would've laughed if the thing weren’t 5 times my size. When the monster saw me approach, it growled with a frightening ferocity. I stood my ground, legs shaking. It opened its mouth wide, while I held the canister straight in front of me as a shield and closed my eyes.
"Vivi!" I heard Darren cry my name.
Crap. Is this it? I die trying to get back the thing that will keep me alive? How ironic. How terribly ironic.
I braced myself, squeezing the top of the spray can as fast as I could. I hear a thud, and after a few seconds, I realize I'm still alive and open my eyes. The monster lay sleeping in front of me, dripping gray snot. It let out a snore. I jumped before turning back in triumph. "Hey, I did it!" I shouted at the boy gaping at me in shock. "It fell asleep." I looked down at my hand, still clutching the spray canister like it was a lifeline and I was drowning. I relaxed my tensed muscles. "This thing is probably sleeping gas or something." I put it back in bag, silently thanking the lady up there for preparing me so well.
"Nice work, Vivi," Darren closed his mouth and gave me a half-hearted thumbs up. "Let's go before Mr. Rabbit wakes up."
"Good idea," I pull him up from the ground and we start walking down the path again. I look back at the creature to make sure it's sleeping and see it covered with a thin fog.
"I feel crummy," Darren says out of the blue. I turn to him with a puzzled look on my face. "I mean, all I did was slow you down. I got hurt, and then you had to save me, and then you knocked that thing out. It was super Wonder Woman," he looked back at me, which makes me turn away, hiding my smile.
"Don't hide," he smiles at me. I stammer indignantly. "I see you smiling. You're proud," he tells me. I grin. "Ok," I say back.
We walk together silently a little bit when I realize something. Darren's only two or three inches taller than me, and I'm only 5'3". I laugh out loud.
"What now?" He asks me.
"You're not that much taller than me. It makes me feel better," I say mid-laugh.
He grimaced at me. "Don't mock me. I feel bad enough about my height. I'll grow soon. I hope," he laughs.
I take courage in his indifference about the subject and go on my tiptoes to pat his head like a dog. His hair's kinda coarse, a whole lot different than the silkiness of the hair that I had last felt. I compare him to Yoru quickly. Darren's got brown eyes, Yoru has his piercing blue ones. Yoru is a little taller than Darren. If I had to guess, I think they're about two inches apart. They both have high cheekbones, but Darren's tan, and Yoru, as I remember him, was so so pale. Yoru was like a delicate flower. He was prettier than me. I laugh, remembering how I was so taken aback by his beauty when I first met him. Then I remember why I'm down here and sober up immediately.
Darren sees my change in mood. "What's wrong?" he questions.
"His name is Yoru Tomorokashi. He's the first heir to the demon throne. He's super pale, has really blue eyes, really red lips, and intense black hair. You can't miss him. He always wears black, and he pretty much looks human. He's fit and thin at the same time, and he has really skinny fingers." I glare into the distance.
"Huh," Darren says, an annoyed tone underlying his voice. "You know a lot about this guy."
"Well, yeah. He bit me and stole 80 years off my life. That's what I meant by he took my soul." I add the last sentence quickly when Darren looked at me startled. "Anyway, I told you all that so that you can identify him. We have to kill him so that I can get my life back. Then we can go back to the real world." Darren nodded.
We walk a little more before I catch the sun setting. "Hey," I nudge Darren's arm. "Let's stop somewhere for the night. Sun's setting." He seemed like he wanted to argue and keep walking but quickly agrees with me.
"You're right. More things might attack us at night." Darren scratches his head.
We stray off the path to find a cave or hideout where we could safely stay for the night. I find this nice rock cove with bone-white hanging ivy in front to disguise it. "Hey, Darren, come here. This place looks good," I motion him over with my hand.
"Yeah." He smiles at me and moves on inside to check it out with the flashlight from his pack. Apparently, it's all nice and safe, because a few moments later Darren comes back out and tells me it's a great place to stay.
We go in, arrange the dirt a little to make it more bearable to sleep on, and open some precious supplies to indulge in. We laugh and talk about the day's experiences for a long time, munching on the dried meat and fruit and sharing a bottle of water.
"My God, today was way too extreme," I said with a wry smile.
He nodded. "Yeah, I fell down a hole chasing some girl who didn't know I existed until now and ended up almost being chow for a rabbit hybrid thing from hell," Darren grinned at me and I laughed. The longer I stared at him, the more interesting he got. The way his hair fell over his eyes, the reflection of our handmade fire in his face, and the way his hands kept tapping the ground like he was expecting something to attack us at any moment. It was true. I didn't think of him at all before today. He was just Stalker #4 from Math.
That kinda sucks that I didn't try to get to know him before. He's not such a bad person.
"Kay. G'night." I told him as I smoothed out my clothes and lay down on the ground facing away from him. I needed some time to sort out what I felt about today. The life-blood thing, the prince of demons thing, the in-hell thing, and the Darren-is-right-beside-me-and-my-heart-is-pounding-really-fast-and-I-don't-know-why-wait-I-kinda-do-know-why-but-I-don't-want-to-admit-it thing.
We fell asleep to the sound of the ivy in front of our cave waving in the wind.
The next morning, I woke up sweating and in the middle of a scream. It woke up Darren instantly and he sat up feverishly, rubbing his eyes. "What, Vivi? What's wrong?"
"Nothing," I replied when I had calmed myself down. "Just a dream." Embarrassed, I grabbed my pack and got up quickly, ready to start walking again. Darren followed me wordlessly.
Only on the path a few minutes, Darren tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around. His face sent shivers down my spine. He looked so utterly terrified of something, it made me fear it too. He pointed behind us, and when I saw it, I gasped.
A foggy mist was slowly approaching. We watched it come closer in stunned silence. I dropped my bag and approached it but stopped when I saw a small mouse walk out in the middle of the road. It looked like a real mouse, the ones we were used to seeing back in reality. It walked into the mist; probably thinking it was just a foggy thing in its way.
The mouse stepped confidently for a few feet, no harm whatsoever, before it seized up violently and froze in place. Then it disintegrated, and the pieces of dust that used to be a mouse either drifted onto the floor or floated away.
In the distance, I heard Darren frantically calling my name and saying we had to leave right now, but I was too entranced by the broken mouse and the foggy mist to pay attention. The mist looked so welcoming, and I thought I could see the ghost of the dead mouse inside the mist, beckoning me to come join it.
Darren grabbed me by the arm and started tugging me away. Remember how I said he's actually pretty strong, despite how he looks? Yeah, well, he's still strong and I'm barely 100 pounds, so it's safe to say he pulled me out of there quite easily.
"Vivi, hurry up! You don't want that thing to catch you!" He shouted at me.
"Right," I picked up my bag from where I had dropped it on the ground and ran with him. "Run!"
We ran as fast as our feet would carry us, desperately hoping to run fast enough to avoid the death mist. Vivi stumbled a few times, but I pulled her sleeve and set her upright. No stopping or talking, the only sound that could be heard was the slap of our sneakers thudding against the stones.
I saw a diversion in the road and quickly tugged Vivi towards it.
"What are you doing?" she hissed at me. "We can't stop now, stupid." I ignored her and pulled her towards the split in the road. The mist was quite a few feet behind us; I doubt that it could catch us if we made a turn.
"Look, that thing doesn't have eyes, right? It can't follow us if we go somewhere other than straight," I turned around and told Vivi. Her eyes widened and she shut her mouth. I crouched down behind the bushes that lined the road. "Come here," I gestured to her. She hesitated, then crouched down next to me. She was really small next to me and it took me forcing myself to remember the situation we were in to resist the urge to put my arm around her.
We waited patiently and soon enough, the white mist rolled down the stone path, decimating all in its way (thankfully, only a few bleached-white leaves had to suffer the incineration). As I predicted, it did not act like an actual mist, but more like a tangible entity; it pretty moved as a compressed ball of air and didn't spread out to where we crouched, hidden.
It moved slowly but surely, and after it passed, Vivi and I let out the breath we didn't know we had been holding in. We looked at each other simultaneously, surprised, and smiled.
"Hey, let's find a cave or something to hide out in. We'll wait a while, then keep going on the path," I suggested. When she nodded, I moved out, brushing away the white leaves that obscured my search for a hideout.
Vivi spotted it first. A nice little spot under a big black tree trunk, surrounded by a family of other tree trunks so whoever sat in the center of the ring would be completing obscured from the outside. The leaves hung in such a way that made finding this place nearly impossible, except for a small opening in the back. "Darren, look. This is a perfect spot to hide."
"Yeah, it is," I smiled at her. She's really good at finding these kinds of places. Last night was also her.
"You're good at finding these places," I announced my thoughts out loud. Vivi gave me a c***y grin and turned away, but not before I caught a glimpse of the blush threatening to consume her face. She popped her head in between the trees and came out, giving me a thumbs up signal.
We crawled inside with minor difficulties; it was a little tight but no actual problem. The space inside was just enough for the two of us to sit comfortably, at a safe distance from each other. When we had settled down, Vivi sat up straight with a sudden idea, swung her pack in front of her, and looked studiously for something. She pulled out her phone with a "Yes!"
I don't think that works down here, Vivi, but you can try.
She pressed a few buttons and turned it around, triumphantly. An iPhone 6 picture shone back at me, the pixels the same shoddy quality as I remembered.
I'm surprised. Didn't think the camera would work.
Our surroundings were forever captured on that little device, the jet black tree trunks, standing like solemn soldiers side by side, their white leaves contrasting sharply and terribly.
After a while, we got brave enough to venture out again. I watched Vivi cautiously place her right foot on the stone path and look both ways vigorously, like a child crossing the street for the first time. I followed with a little less drama, swinging my head from side to side 20 times, rather than 30.
On the road, we had a long laugh about our trepidation of the warrior mist creature and talked of our battle plan. She told me that demons could be killed really similarly to humans, which made them so different than vampires. Vivi highlighted the difference between Yoru, the guy she's after, and all the other minor demons.
"Wait, so the thing that we saw yesterday, that's a minor demon?" I questioned her, emphasizing the word minor.
She smiled. "Yeah. Yoru's a whole lot more powerful. Also, the demon world isn't like your average teenage romcom plot. They use guns, just like humans. Not samurai swords or something ancient magic thingies. They're amazingly modern."
I licked my lips and looked forward. "Ok." We kept walking. After a minute of awkward silence, we started talking about life back up there and what we would do once we defeated Yoru.
"I'm gonna focus a little less on my grades. This whole thing makes me think. It's so easy to die. A demon could show up and seduce you and drink 80% of your life away, and then all you have to show for your life are some grades you got in school," Vivi blurted out, then covered her mouth hastily and tugged her side bangs. She made me smile.
"Same, I guess. I'm gonna try to become better friends with people. Before this, I was only really friends with Danny, Jack and Richard. I wanna get to know more people. They're pretty interesting," I stared at Vivi hard. The corners of her lips tugged and the tip of her nose flamed up.
I wonder if I can tell her. But then she’d be pissed, wouldn’t she? She's so easy and fun to tease.
A deeper voice inside of me chimed in:
But I wasn't teasing.
I heard a twig snap and looked behind us. "Ah, crap. Vivi, Sergeant Mist is here again."
She turned around. "What?" The mist creature/ball headed towards us; this time it had taken a more spherical form, smashing into the trees with its 'head' using brute force. Vivi acted fast and took out her own mist weapon before I thought of a possible way to run, turned the nozzle to make it a hose (holy s***, that thing could do that?) and started spraying the hell out of it.
She would be one hell of a Febreeze mom, I quietly thought.
There was no effect on the mist creature. It just turned towards her and moved a little faster. Vivi backed up and stuffed her now-useless weapon back in her bag.
"Ok. I tried. Not working. Time to run!" She started running at full speed and grabbed my hand as she passed.
The mist chases us at our speed, but a few hundred feet behind. "Let's split up," I volunteer. Vivi nods. "Good idea," she says. I let go of her hand and start running to the right, while Vivi turns to the left. I plow headfirst through some trees and hide behind a really fat trunk, watching the mist. It stopped after we split up, swinging its 'head' from side to side. If it weren't trying to kill us, I'd have thought it was pretty cute.
It doesn't move from that spot, which kinda sucked because now Vivi and I couldn't meet up. It was also becoming more translucent, rather than fully see through. I thought I could see the outline of an old man in the middle of the mist. I remember what Vivi told me. Minor demon.
It seemed to be losing power. Vivi must have thought so too, because she stepped out from her hiding place and brandished her hose/spray gun again. I held my breath in anticipation. If she got eaten, I'd have no way to go home. I ran out into the path, revealing myself as well. Vivi aimed and pressed the top.
The man mist thing looked at her once, as if to say, Really? And then fell apart. We could see the street again. Vivi turned to me and laughed.
"That's the guy who told me everything about this place! I don't think we killed him but he's gone now! We did it!" She jumped up and hugged me. I stood really straight, taken aback by the suddenness of her affection.
"Oh," She let go fast when I didn't respond. "Sorry. Too excited," she turned away, mumbling.
I blinked then spun her around to face me. In one motion, I cupped the back of her neck with one hand and her waist with another. I bent my head and met her lips with mine. They were plush and delicate.
Vivi didn't miss a beat. As soon as I bent my head, her arms went up and around my neck to pull me in. I grinned against her lips. It was a closed kiss, keeping it nice and modest. Sweet yet passionate, sincere and deep. I pulled back first and we stared at each other.
Vivi started blushing a deep crimson red, so red it matched the color of the Barron's SAT II P/S Chemistry review book back in my room.
"Um," I rubbed the back of my neck. "That was nice." I avoided her eyes, instead choosing to fixate on how her shoelaces were untied. I bent down and tied them and then untying them and double-knotting them.
Now I don’t know what to do. Should I tell her?
She bent down to my height and lifted my chin. "Hey, look at me," she said. My eyes flitted up. Vivi gave me a smile and kissed me again. Quick peck. Then she turned around and started walking again, like nothing had happened.
I touched my lips and grinned wide. She liked me too! I was so happy I was suddenly glad I had followed my instincts and stepped into the closet after her.
I’m not telling her, I decided. She's a prize worth chasing.
I'm walking quite a few feet in front of Darren, so he doesn't see me when I raise a hand to my mouth and cover it, screaming. My lips still tingled. His were so soft and gentle; I would've forgotten his strength had I not felt it personally. It was my first kiss. And I really did like him too. I didn't think I did at first, but wow, do I feel it now. I wanna protect him. I think. Probably.
I looked back at Darren, who was touching his lips too. I grinned and turned back around. We walked like that for a while, me silently giggling to myself like an infatuated schoolgirl. Which, if you think about it, described me perfectly.
"Vivi." Darren called my name briefly; when I turned around he was staring at something behind me. I followed his gaze to set my eyes on the palace.
It was, in a word, gorgeous. I didn't think I'd say this about the palace of the demon world, but it truly was. Sweeping arches, glorious domes, and high peaks dipped in pure white that scratched against the sky with brutal force. The architecture was brilliant, crafted by only the finest of the world's designers and architects. Darren and I stared in wonder, neither of us saying a thing. Our eyes were captivated by the larger-than-life sight in front of us, towering over our heads like the monster we faced, only beautiful rather than ragged.
"Magnificent," Darren said beside me. His eyes twinkled, the nerd in him awakened at the vision of such a fantastic piece of historical architecture. "I must be the first to see something like this. That makes me like Columbus, or Magellan, or, or, even Pizzaro!"
I laughed at the history names I barely recognized and Darren's boyish enthusiasm. His happiness was infectious, and I felt myself becoming happier.
"Come on, sailor," I pulled his arm. "Let's go meet His Highness Prince Yoru." He sobered up immediately and followed me without a word.
We walk through the biggest arch, presumably the entrance to the palace. Inside its walls, the opulence hits our modest-suburban minds thoroughly. It was like a color explosion. The outside had been as black and white and gray as the rest of this whole damned world, but the inside of this palace glistened everywhere. The doors we pushed our way through were made of tinted glass, so you could see outside but outside couldn't see you, which would explain why we thought they were just black.
The living room, or what I could only call the living room, was a vast and spacious area, with sloping marble walls and a pure glass staircase spiraling to the second floor. On the walls hung enormous 24" by 46" paintings, each a portrait of what I presume was a previous emperor. Upon my closer inspection, I could see the fine brush strokes that made all of these the original copy. They were framed in heavy black wood, black as tar.
One guard waited at the foot of the staircase, which Darren and I hurried over to.
"Hello, miss," the guard looked down at me, and I saw a nice weathered face with kind eyes looking down at me. He looked...almost human. Then he smiled and I saw his incisors.
I backed away slowly, into Darren, who held my shoulders protectively. "We're here to meet with Yoru," I said, voice shaking.
"Yoru?" The guard tilted his head. He looked like a confused puppy. If puppies had fangs with dagger sharp points. "Ah, you mean His Highness?"
"I shall take you to him, then." Demon guard offered readily, but I saw the strange gleam in his eyes and shook my head.
"No thanks. Please direct us the right way. We can make it on our own," I smiled through gritted teeth, trying to keep from screaming.
The guard leaned back, as if he had been expecting my refusal, and smiled condescendingly. "Up the stairs, make a left, keep walking all the way down, and you'll see two big wooden doors. Open them, and you enter the throne room. That's where Master is waiting," he jutted his thumb behind him.
I brushed past him and grasped Darren's hand. Rough, and gentle at the same time. I smiled at him, and we walked up the glass steps together. More than 200 steps awaited us, and after 100, Darren closed his eyes and held onto my hand tighter.
"Acrophobia?" I laughed.
He nodded and grimaced. I pulled him, not admitting that the fact the stairs were pure glass was freaking me out too. The fall seemed like it would hurt a lot, from all the way up where we were. Should the glass break, we would tumble to what most likely was our death.
Well, we're in hell already. Get over yourself, Vivi. Think of the mission.
I shook my head to settle the random thoughts and collect my bearings. We finally made it to the top. I shook Darren. "Hey, we're here."
He opened his eyes slowly. They were so brown, like cocoa on a freezing winter day. So warm, like the welcoming chocolate color of my favorite armchair back at home, where I sat many a rainy day and read my books.
How did I not see this before? Darren's really good-looking.
I turned left like I had been instructed to and pushed through the two doors at the end of the hall Mr. Guard had mentioned was the throne room. Inside was like a Catholic cathedral, much like the one spiritual Yvonne frequented. Rows upon rows of church benches, and at the front a large space with a throne at the top of a small flight of stairs. A figure sat there calmly, like he had been waiting for us. As we approached closer, I gripped Darren's hand. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him flinch at my nails digging into his flesh, and I loosened my hold out of shame.
Yoru became clearer and clearer in my field of view. That same jet black hair, beautiful face, azure eyes and lopsided c***y smile. "Hey, sweet pea. I've been waiting for you." He jumped off his throne and strutted down to me. I narrowed my eyes and let go of Darren's hand, preparing myself for whatever the sleazebag would try next.
Yoru cupped my face with one hand and leaned in close. I could feel his breath on my face before I quickly put my hands on his chest and pushed him away. But I pushed air, because Darren had just grabbed the prince of the demon's world white tee and yanked him back.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, mongrel?" Darren shouted in Yoru's face. Yoru laughed. He really did seem just like a regular boy, but then he laughed and those notorious incisors reminded me of whom he really was: a monster. I grabbed Darren's other hand and pulled him away from Yoru quickly.
"It's fine. Leave it alone, Darren," my fear must have shown on my face because Darren took one look at me and calmed himself down, veins still bulging.
I faced Yoru. "So what do I have to do to get my life-blood back? And go back to our world?"
Yoru smirked. "I'm sure Erik told you the details already, darling. And as for going back, it's just a matter of time. Once you get all your life-blood back, this world will reject you."
I absorb the information; I'll surely need it again in due time. "So what now?" I ask.
Yoru looks out the window. The sky is slowly darkening, the last traces of the sun disappearing to another dimension. "Now. Is bedtime," Yoru winks at me. "Come on, I got your rooms for you. Don't worry, cutie pie, I sleep in the master bedroom. You and your little friend over here can take guest rooms," Yoru stares at Darren for a long time and then turns back to me. "Follow me, darling!"
In a sickeningly cute way, Yoru directs us to our rooms. We're right next to each other. Yoru leaves with a quick "I'll see you tomorrow, my lovely!" directed at me and then leaves us alone.
I clutch Darren's hand. He turns me to face him and holds my face with one hand. "It'll all be ok, Vivi. I'm in my room and you're in yours. Don't worry about a thing. If they wanted to kill us, they'd have done it by now. So relax."
I found solace in his words and nodded, opening the door to my room. The furnishings were simple, a single full-size bed with a closet, dresser, and nightstand. The bed had comforting blue bed sheets, similar to my own at home. The curtains were a deep royal purple, drawn with a golden cord to prevent any prying eyes from entering my room. I swivel, and see a fireplace. I take one of my matches and light it. The warm glow instantly lends a much-needed calming appeal to my otherwise dark and lifeless room.
I play around on my bed a little, bouncing up and down and marveling at how I could take pleasure in something as simple as flexible bed springs in this kind of situation. I laughed at my own juvenile play and quickly shed my outer clothes. Then I crawled into bed wearing my tank top and underwear. The flannel sheets were nice and cool, soothing my unease about this place. I closed my eyes and tried to quiet my mind, but restless as I was, I failed.
I was about to relinquish myself to a night of wakeful terror when I heard a scratching sound. I kept my eyes closed and pulled the blankets a little tighter around my body. All was quiet for a while and I relaxed, breathing steadily in and out.
The sound gave me goose bumps and I screamed.
I stop screaming and get out of bed, frantically searching the room for something to throw at my closet, where the sound had originated. The closet has no door, and I thought I saw red eyes staring at me nestled in one of the cupboard-like compartments, so I grabbed my shoe and threw it. My aim wasn't all that great, so the shoe's trajectory went way off target but at that specific moment, the rodent jumped down from its hiding place and scuffled on the ground, no doubt startled by my yell. Which put it directly in the path of my flying shoe. The shoe hit the small thing squarely, and with a squeaky yelp, it fell back.
Darren burst into my room, waving a desk lamp. He flipped on the switch for the overhead lights in a terribly aggressive manner and held up his weapon (the desk lamp). If I weren’t breaking out in cold sweat, I would've laughed at the ridiculous sight in front of me.
"What's the matter?" Darren shouted. I pointed, and when he saw the tiny rat, his shoulders came down from a defensive position. He came over to where I stood near the bed and enveloped me in a hug. That's when I realized I was trembling, enough to rattle the rock mountains surrounding me. "Shhh," Darren whispered in my ear. "It's dead, or knocked out, or in a coma, or something. It's fine, Vivi." He smoothed my hair with a gentle hand. The repetition of the strokes relaxed my tense shoulders and I rested my head against his chest, breathing out deeply.
I pulled my head back and looked up at him. "Thanks," I mouthed. He looked down at me, eyes crinkling kindly. Darren raised his hand and brushed a strand of my hair behind my ear tenderly. Then, with his fingers he pushed the straps of my tank top down and kissed my bare shoulders slowly.
Wait. Wait. Hold up. What is he doing?
Darren led me back to my bed and threw me down on the sheets. He crawled over me and hovered for a moment before swooping down to kiss my neck. He sucked in a breath with tremendous speed. And hesitated.
Ok. That's good. Hesitation is good. I definitely don't want this now....
He pushed himself back up and got off the bed. I stared at him, obviously relieved but feeling a sense of something missing. Darren gave me a signature nerdy smile, this time with a twinge of regret and left the room, closing the door quietly behind him.
I nudged up my straps and pulled the blanket over me so that only my head popped out.
What just happened? I'm only 18! That moved way too fast.
I shook my head and told myself to forget the incident. What's past is past, right? I forced my eyes shut and drifted off. Before I lost consciousness, a beautiful face with dark blue eyes floated into view. I was so mad at him; it was his fault I was here.
It was all his fault. Right?
I swam into consciousness, my mouth feeling like the Sahara Desert. I rolled to one side, stretching, only to roll off the full-size and land harshly on the floor. Entangled in the thick comforter, I was protected by my shield of fluffy blue down, but the jolt was enough for me to pop my eyes open and keep them open. I pushed myself up, and plodded over to the closet with no doors. Someone had come into my room during the night when I was sleeping and stocked it. Floor length gowns and sparkly prom dresses lined the previously empty closet and I sighed.
Navigating through the sea of sequins, I came across a light blue shirt with a sparkly crop top attached to it. I grabbed the scissors from the nightstand and cut the connection between the bejeweled crop top and its plain underling. That and a pair of denim shorts completed my look, and I went outside to see if the bathroom was in working condition.
I opened the door, and the steam hit my face so hard it fogged up my glasses instantaneously. When they cleared up, I saw that Yoru was by the mirror, a towel around his waist. And nothing else. My eyes widened and I turned around quickly.
"Lock the door next time, pervert!" I slammed the door shut and ran back to my room, jumping back into bed headfirst.
A few moments later, I heard the bathroom door creak open again and footsteps to my room. They stopped outside the door. Without turning around lest my red face be spotted, I said, "Look, I didn't know you would be in there. Sorry." Then I realized I was talking to a demon, and that he should be sorry, not me. "But it's your fault. You should've been more careful."
I turned around. Those blue eyes looked back at me. He wore a black shirt now, not as tight fitting as I had remembered. His hair was still damp from the shower; it created a startling black frame around his face. All Yoru did was smirk at me. Once. Then he turned on his heel and went downstairs.
I used the bathroom, fulfilling my morning wash up routine, and waited as Darren did the same (he was awake when I went into his room). We went downstairs together, and then ate some eggs and toast. They were offered to us by mute servants who trailed up and down the dining hall like they had somewhere to go, but nowhere to be. The food seemed legitimate, and both of us were starving after a week surviving off dried fruit.
"So what do we do now?" Darren looked at me, puzzled.
"Find Yoru and talk to him?" I answered his question with one of my own. A tap on my right shoulder bade me turn around. One of the servants stared back at me. She was a short girl, even shorter than me, standing at about 5 feet. She was pink-cheeked, something I did not expect to see in a person down here.
"Hello. My name is Tomorokashi Demona. Master Yoru has instructed me to take you to meet with Sibyl." The girl repeated to me, robotically and quietly.
I looked at Darren and he looked at me. He shrugged and I nodded to the girl. We followed her to an opening with a bead curtain in the palace. She opened it and went inside, but Darren pulled me back.
"Wait, Vivi. Look," the trepidation in his voice made me stop. I looked where he was looking. The curtain wasn't made with beads, as I had thought, but rather with small pieces of bone. I gulped.
I really hope those aren't human bones.
The girl popped her head back outside, with an annoyed face that instantly transformed her from cute to slightly rabid.
"I think we should follow her. She might kill us on the stop if we don't," I hissed at Darren from the corner of my mouth.
He squeezed my hand. "Ok."
We brushed the "curtain" away and kept the back of the servant girl in our field of vision through a long hallway. We came to its end and encountered an old lady sitting there cross-legged. She had a large mane of gray hair, which covered her face entirely. Our pink-cheeked guide bowed to the old lady and backed out, leaving us alone.
"Um. Hi. So, I think Yoru asked me to meet with you." I said the words proudly, disregarding the skulls in the corner of the room or the fact that the only light came from a few candles on the mantel.
"Yes. His Highness has asked a favor of me. I am to inform you," the lady moved her hair aside and looked up at me. Darren tightened his hold on my hand and I moved back a few steps. The kind manager who had given the both of us supplies for the journey and had acted so sad in front of me now grinned maliciously at me.
"You," I accused, not knowing what I was accusing her of exactly.
"You are right, child. I lied to you. I have no brother. It was my life-blood they stole, my journey to make. But I did tell you the truth when I said my brother did not come out of here alive. I didn't. I'm a half-demon now," the old lady cackled at me. "This is what you become when they take your life-blood and you fail in getting it back!"
I moved back even more, betrayal stinging my heart. "The lesser demon with Yoru told me you die when you don't get your life-blood back in time. Why are you still alive?"
Darren looked at me, startled. "Wait, you're going to die?"
I ignored him, focusing my attention on the old hag.
"Because, dearie, I made a bargain with them. If you run out of time, give them a piece of your life that was meaningful to you and they'll turn you into one of them. You'll be a half-demon. You can still live your life, but you don't have their powers. And your life is bound to them. Forever." She cackled at me again. It was getting annoying.
"Great. Anything else I need to know?" I asked, knowing there was more.
"Oh yes. You need much more information. That useless lesser demon back at my cafe didn't uncover half of what you need. Let's see here," she beckoned the two of us to sit on the ground. There was no harm in doing so, so I tugged Darren down beside me.
"Yoru is the prince of this place, first heir. That means he controls everything. And sees everything, so don't try any funny business. His father is King S***a Tomorokoshi," she says. I stare at her. "They overthrew the last king. They're from Japan." Which explained the Asian-style paintings hanging around.
She took a breath, continuing where she left off. "This world is pretty much the same as the upper one, except without color. It's the same size as the Earth. Literally an underground. You go to any other planets, and there will be an underworld like this one the same size as the one humans roam on. This land is chained to its brother reality. One cannot exist without the other. The only beings who can travel between this world and the upper world freely are half-demons, because they have traits of both species, the ruling family, and anyone who the ruling family chooses to bring with them. All the other demons can too, but they have to pay a toll. Not money. A possession. Then they can go there and eat whatever they want. Like a buffet. With humans." She laughs madly and I squirm in discomfort. I feel Darren next to me ready to bash this lady's head in for her gruesome topic, but I put a hand over his arm to calm him.
"If you're not a half-demon or a royal or a royal's companion, then you can only stay up there for a certain amount of time. Demons can only filter the air for so long. Then we die. It's the opposite for humans. They can come as they please, but weapons can't. The Barrier senses evil intent in such things like guns or machetes and acts like a filter. Those things don't make it down here. It's for the protection of both our species. We all know a war would be devastating. The ruling family members are the only ones that can take life-blood. I'm sure the eunuch explained to you what exactly that is." I nod. She picks up, "Of course, everyone who gets his or her life-blood taken comes down here to get it back. They all hear that they just have to kill the royal who took the life-blood from them to get their years back and go back to their normal lives. They're right, but once they come down here, they're either dead or here to stay like me. But there's something special about having your life-blood taken away from you. One interesting fact that, if those other children had known, they might not have died. Of course, it's still highly possible that they would've died."
I sit up straighter. "Enlighten me."
Half-demon lady stands up and begins dusting off her mantel with a single long-ass sleeve. "Oh yes, Vivi dear. Yoru has your life-blood, which means he has you. Part of your soul is inside him, fueling his life. That means he can't do things that you really hate. He can't kill you. There will be two sides to his heart, girl, and you control one part. He can't order people to kill you. Now that's great and all, but all it means is he can't do things you don't like. He can't do things you want. He can't return your life-blood of his own volition. He can't give you eternal happiness or something silly like that."
I glance at Darren. "That's good, right?" I ask my informer.
"Yes, in a way," replies the Sibyl.
Darren squeezes my hand in happiness and we smile at each other, pleased with this new information. I pause.
If Yoru can't order people to kill me, then I can make it so he can't order people to kill Darren, either!
I smile at my own revelation, when the Sibyl speaks again.
"One more thing, child. There's another way to get your life-blood back. No one ever tries it, because it's a lost cause for most people and you end up squandering your remaining years away. But S***a, the King who stole my life-blood, told me. And I almost succeeded. Had it not been for his allegiance to his kingdom, I might have won," she spoke bitterly. I was intrigued, but knew better than to ask at this moment, and simply waited for her to go on. "Make him fall in love with you. You don't have to fall in love with him, but make it so the prince falls truly and utterly in love with you. Then you will get your life-blood back."
"What?" I shout at the Sibyl, who turns around with a placid expression on her face, clearly oblivious to my mind's tumult. "That's the other way?"
"Vivi, no. It's better to just kill him. I'll help. We can do it, I promise you," Darren touches my arm, trying to placate me. I smile at his bravery and readiness to help.
"Kid's right, Vivi. It'll be so much easier to just kill him. We demons are pretty narcissistic. We don't generally feel such mortal emotions like love." She places heavy emphasis on the word mortal, rolling the syllables around on her tongue like something horridly vile.
"I just have to confirm it. And everything you just told me." I stand up quickly and whisper "I'll see you later," to Darren and leave the musty room. Once outside, I break into a run, feet slapping against the pavement and thoughts coming in a rush to my brain.
Should I kill him? Sibyl and Darren say it's easier. Maybe I should just stick to that plan. Manager Lady also said that he can't kill me. Meaning, I can try all I want to kill him? Right? Right?
I run down the flight of stairs and reach the huge double doors of the throne room. I stand before it, taking a moment to press a hand to my chest and stop my fervent panting. I push the doors open and stare down the aisle. As I walk closer, I see that Yoru is indeed waiting at the front, but off to the side, rather than seated on the throne. He's sitting at a long wooden desk, with his guards standing around him. His back is to me and I see the curve of his spine jutting out ever so slightly from his shirt.
Yoru hears my footsteps. Without turning around, he says to his paperwork, "Father's in the drawing room. It's really no use complaining about the Barrier. A decision is a decision."
Ok, those words were definitely not meant for me.
I scuffle my feet a little until he turns around. He swivels his chair, exasperated, and looks at me. He has on thin round circle glasses and I take a step back. His eyes light up with recognition.
"Vivi, honey, what a pleasure to see you. I'm sure you found your morning here very pleasant. After all, we offer only the best of everything to our guests." He smiles at me, almost a leer but not quite. I blush, remembering the events of the morning.
"Yes, the food was great. Thanks for not poisoning it."
"Ooh, I do love a fiery personality right after breakfast. Helps digestion, you know?" Yoru rubs a hand counterclockwise on his stomach and shifts his weight to the left side of his chair, kicking up a leg and looking very comfortable.
"Ok yeah, whatever. I'm not in the mood. I just want to confirm what Sibyl said to me." I waved a hand, dismissing Yoru's jokes.
"Ah, you met with her? Good. So what do you need to confirm, Miss Vivi?" Yoru pushed up the frame of his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose. He blinked at me.
"Um," I stuttered. "She, she said that, um, you can't kill me. Like, you have some of my blood in you so I can order you around and stuff."
"Yes, and no." Yoru removed his propped leg and leaned back in the chair. "I do have some of your soul in me, so yes, I can't kill people you love or you yourself. But you can't order me around." He laughed. "That's preposterous. I'm the Prince of this whole damned place!"
I nodded. This arrogance was more like him.
"Anything else?" Yoru questioned me.
I moved back another step. "She also said that I could make you fall in love with me. That also breaks the spell. Right?"
Yoru nodded. "You can try." He laughed again.
I got my answer, so I turned around and left, not wanting to hear that condescending laugh any longer.
A few weeks pass in the palace. I have no sense of time, other than the sun going up and down. Is it even the sun? Regardless, Darren and I live like we normally would. I pass the time by wandering around the palace halls, and I would usually feel eyes staring at me and run back into my room, refusing to come out for several hours, instead drawing and cutting new outfits out of the overly sequined monstrosities in my closet.
Darren has been studiously ignoring me. I don't know why, but I see him walking to the Sibyl everyday and not come out until evening. I went in after he left on the third day of following him secretly, and asked Sibyl what Darren was meeting with her all the time about. She said he wanted to return to the real world as quickly as possible. When she told me that, I ran out.
He wanted to leave me here. Darren, who promised to help me fight Yoru. He wanted to leave.
The first night I cried, thinking about Darren's betrayal. After a while, I decided I'd forgive him if he came clean and just admitted what he was doing to me. Then we could think about our battle plan together.
It's been three weeks, and the waiting has been agony. I've cut and re-sewn just about every outfit now hanging in my closet; I've memorized the amount of Vivi-sized shoes it takes to get from one end of my room to the other (53); I know the exact ratio of Asian paintings to Western paintings hanging around in the palace (8:3).
One day, in the early afternoon, I'm ready to start tearing my drawings when there's a knock at my door.
I sag out of my chair in relief. "Darren, what the hell have you been doing? Just tell me! I promise I'll forgive you. Come on, we're in this together." I get to the door, and pulls it in. Facing the person standing in front of me, it takes a moment to register it's not my fun-loving companion.
Yoru smirks at me. "Not expecting me, I guess?" He almost looks hurt, but demons can't feel emotions.
I glare at him. "What do you want?"
"I wanted to give you a tour. It's a big palace, and we wouldn't want our precious baby Vivi with the fragrant blood to get lost and eaten by a monster hiding in the shadows, now would we?" Yoru grins at me sadistically.
He can't kill me, so what's there to refuse? I have nothing better to do, anyway. I grab my bag that I arrived with and empty it on my bed except for the spray weapon, in case Yoru tries anything funny. I'm sure it wouldn't kill him, given that it just barely worked for the lesser demon, and he's the highest rank, but I carry it along anyway.
I follow him grudgingly, staring at Darren's closed door as we pass it. He's probably with the Sibyl, trying to make an elixir that'll take him back. And leave me here. I narrow my eyes and direct my gaze to Yoru's back, since he walks steadily in front of me.
He took me around the upper floor of the palace, which had all the rooms. They were all empty because, as Yoru explained to me, the rooms were for guests and the palace only had two at the moment: me and Darren. All the rooms were the same size as mine or bigger, equipped with a hearth, closet, nightstand, full-size or queen-size bed, and a bookshelf. Some rooms had desks and others had windows. I considered the windows a true blessing; nowhere else in the palace other than the royal rooms did they have windows.
We made a full circle and stopped in front of a door. It looked a lot like all the other rooms, nothing too special about it. I asked Yoru whose room this belonged to.
"It was my mother's," he mumbles softly.
"The Queen?" I ask, incredulous. "Doesn't she sleep with the King?"
Yoru looks at me. "My mother wasn't the Queen. The King had an affair with another woman when he found that that Queen was unable to bear him sons. That woman is my mom. She disappeared when I turned 13," Yoru's face darkened and he turned away and started walking.
I jogged after him. "We're not going in?"
"No," he said firmly and stepped down the stairs with excessive strength.
When we get to the kitchen, he starts smiling again. A plump woman with an apron draped around her waist comes at us with a wooden spatula. I widen my eyes and back up.
Yoru laughs and points. "This is Agatha. She's our head cook." Yoru jumps forward and loops a pale arm around Agatha's neck. "Her pastries are divine. Here, Vivi, catch!" He picks a little baked square off a piece of parchment paper from a baking sheet that looked like it had just been transferred out of the oven and set to cool and chucks it to me.
I'm a bad catch, but I do manage to catch the small treat flying at me. "It's hot!" I almost drop it but manage to keep it bouncing between my two hands to release the heat a little. Then I realize Yoru didn't call me dear or a superficial pet name. I look at him, and he's chatting away with Agatha with a tart in his hand.
I can't catch any snippets of their conversation, so I just stand there awkwardly and focus my attention on the treat. I bite into the crust.
The outside is flaky and crispy, like those Hong Kong egg tarts my mom makes. The layered texture falls apart in my mouth, revealing the sweet filling. Something like raspberries or blueberries. I don't get an artificial taste, so it must be all natural, without added sugar.
"Agatha, this is really good!" I compliment the head cook, who smiles at me placidly.
"This is Vivi," Yoru introduces me. "She's a guest here." Then he whispers quietly to Agatha, but loudly enough so that I can hear. "She's here to get her you-know-what back." The cook nods in understanding and looks at me pitifully.
"Good luck, dear." She stops when she realizes what she just said. "But don't kill him. We love our Prince."
I smile at her awkwardly.
If I don't kill him, how do I get my life-blood back? What does she want me to do, become a half-demon?
"Nice seeing you, Agatha. Make a good dinner for us!" Yoru winks at her and grabs my arm suddenly, dragging me out of the kitchen.
I stumble after him for a while, then twist my arm from his grasp. "What?"
"Nothing," Yoru says nonchalantly. "You looked a little uncomfortable back there."
What the hell? Is mind-reading another power of his?
"Come on," Yoru beckons me with a wave of his hand and walks on. "We have one more stop." Intrigued, I follow him. He walks down the stairs again, greeting the guard at the bottom.
"Hey, Erik," Yoru calls. The guard turns around. I chuckle.
"Hey. Remember me?" I pipe up from behind Yoru. The guard looks at me, his face blank. I sigh and widen my eyes, putting on a scared face. Recognition sparks.
"You're that girl that came in a few weeks ago, looking for Master," the guard points at me, accusingly.
I laugh. So he only recognizes me when I look scared.
"Erik, we just wanna look around at the paintings. You know, the royal ones." Yoru wiggles his eyebrows at Erik. I giggle. He looks ridiculous.
Just like this whole thing. I hate him. I shouldn't be laughing right now.
I sober up immediately, and Yoru turns to look at me, surprised by my sudden change of attitude. "Hurry up," I say blandly.
Yoru shrugs and directs me into another room, behind the spiraling staircase. He gets to the door first and waits for me to catch up before shoving it open with a shoulder.
I had my arms crossed tightly and a sour expression forcibly pressed on my face, but it began to dissolve as the splendors of the room embraced me. I walked in tentatively, one purple-slippered foot stepping in.
The paintings were gorgeous, and all originals. Yoru guided me slowly, without holding my hand whatsoever (which I highly appreciated) towards the painting on the far left.
He pointed at it. It was very much unlike the traditional paintings that you usually see in museums, with a brave and handsome man on top of a galloping steed. Instead, this man was writing on a scroll.
"This was my grandfather's best friend, before we took power. Back in Japan, or more technically the Underground beneath Japan, we were just a middle-class military general's family. He's writing to convince the emperor of Japan not to involve the country in World War I. He failed, as we know, but he tried." Yoru's eyes kinda drifted and started staring off into space, and I felt kind of concerned.
"So this Underworld is really just like the upper world, but inhabited with demons instead of humans?" I asked.
"Uh-huh," Yoru nodded. "We have the same countries, the same topography, the same conflicts and wars."
He walked over to the next painting and introduced them each with a long story about the origin of the man depicted in the painting and how they were related to the royal family. On the last one, he stopped.
I sucked in a breath. The painting was painted with flawless skill, each brush stroke so fine they could hardly be seen. The colors were vibrant, used masterfully enough to capture the essence of the person. The face that stared back at me was in the middle of a laugh, with his eyes extended beyond the page, to a spot next to the painter. It was like a photograph, one that perfectly captured the moment as it happened.
"Who's he?" I whispered to Yoru.
He hesitated, and I felt like he was about to turn around and leave again. But he didn't. "That's my dad. Before...." he trailed off. I stared at the face. He looked so exuberantly happy. I could see some resemblance to Yoru there. They had the same cheekbones, strangely high, and the same nose, a little bit crooked.
"Before what?" I ask.
He takes a breath. "Before my mom died."
I whip my head around and stare into his eyes. Twin pools of deep lapis lazuli blue stare back into my light hazel ones. Neither one of us breaks eye contact and it doesn't even get awkward, which unsettles me. His eyes are so pretty and it feels like they could draw me in. He takes a step closet and it gets so quiet I can hear my heart pump.
Finally, he smirks, one side of his mouth going higher than the other. He steps back. The arrogant gleam comes back into his eyes. Still, all I can hear is my heart pumping in my ears, an elephant's trumpet call sounding again and again.
"Vivi, I have something to tell you," Yoru tells me, a strangely serious look on his face. I force myself to take deep breaths, quelling the disorder in my mind.
"Your friend, Darren, as he calls himself now, isn't who you think he is." Yoru pauses, taking a moment to gauge my reaction.
"What do you mean? Darren's my classmate. We have math together and we both go to Mica High." My tone of voice takes on a defensive stance.
"That's who he was trying to be. In truth, though, he's a demon. And not just any demon," Yoru looks into my disbelieving eyes. "He's my half-brother, Vivi. Next in line after me for the throne."
I look at him. "No. No way. He's Darren. Then why would he have helped me all this way? Why didn't he take my life-blood before you?"
"To be honest, Vivi, I don't know. His real name is Loki. His mother is Queen Josephine. She's the legitimate queen, the one that bore this kingdom two princes. He ran away from home 5 years ago after a fight with my father. The King told everyone who remained not to mention him anymore, that he would never be welcome in the palace again. I guess no one's recognized him yet."
I shiver unconsciously then laugh in derision. "Nice story you made up there. You have quite the imagination, Yoru. I'll be leaving now. Thanks for the trip!" I turn around quickly and walk back speedily to my room, the image of Yoru's regretful eyes staring at me burned into my visual encoding.
I spend another month hiding out in my room, not doing much of anything. Darren's still avoiding me, which I guess is alright because after what Yoru said, I'm not sure how I feel about him. I'm not wasting my days down here, tho. In my nightstand I found a little green journal that must have belonged to whoever occupied this room before me. It was largely empty, except for a few scribbles on the first three pages. I had torn those out after scrutinizing each scribble to make sure it wasn't a secret code, then laid them back in the drawer I found them in. I found Agatha again and borrowed a pen from her large assortment. Strange that a baker would possess such a large quantity of writing utensils but I'm in hell; I should be expecting all sorts of strange things. She told me that she, like the Sibyl, was a half-demon. The ruling king had taken her life-blood as well, and when she came to get it back, she ran out of time and they made her a half-demon and had her serve them in the kitchen.
"It's not too bad a life, really. I'd always wanted to be a cook. Up there, I was an accountant. Never had the courage to give up a safe life and start a restaurant or bakery or something," Agatha confided in me. Then she laughed. "Don't look so astounded, honey. They can't kill me. It's not like living down here is the worse thing in existence." She returned to her work, rolling out some pie dough with an aggression that made me question the truth of her last words.
With my pen, I wrote down what happened to me in my travels underground. I wrote about how I felt when I arrived, and how I fell in love with Darren, and how we reached the palace together. I wrote about my daily life here, about Yoru, about how he pissed me off and made me laugh at the same time.
I thought a lot about what Yoru said about Darren.
It makes sense. That's why he's so willing to kill the demon prince. If he's second in line and we kill Yoru, then he would get the throne after the King died.
These thoughts haunted my everyday life, little voices speaking out from the back of my mind. It took a lot of effort to suppress them time and time again.
After the second month, Yoru came knocking at my door, probably figuring he had given me enough alone time after the bomb he dropped on me last time we talked.
I opened it cautiously, unsure of who it was. Yoru was sitting cross-legged on the floor, swaying gently. When I opened the door, he looked up at me and grinned wide. "Wanna get out of here?"
Uncertain but my curiosity peaked, I nod slowly. "Where are we going?"
"You'll see." Yoru gets up and dusts off his hands on his jeans. Then he guides me down two flights of stairs to the main floor. He waves at Erik and calls out a greeting.
Erik returns the wave and smiles. "Where are you youngsters headed?"
Yoru grins at him. "Somewhere."
I blink. That sounds rather foreboding. Maybe I should stop walking.
It's ok, another voice reassures me. He can't kill you or do harm to you. And besides, getting out after a month is nice.
So I keep following him, clutching the spray mist in my pocket. Yoru goes into a room, the door unadorned, a rarity in this jewel-encrusted palace. Green stares back at me. Green! Vibrant, lush, green!
Short trees and bushes sport brilliant hues of that naturally beautiful color. The dirt is actual dirt, brown and black and dirty. The air has an agreeable crispness to it, compared to the stuffiness of the palace. I flit from bush to bush, admiring the natural beauty of the world I used to live in.
Yoru watches me with a steady eye. "Do you like it?"
I turn back to him, masking my joy. "Where is this place?"
Yoru cups a purple peony in his hands. "It's my hide-out. When I want to get away from it all. These are all real. All the trees and flowers come from seeds that my servants brought me from the upper realm. With a lot of care, I made those seeds into this." He spreads his arms wide.
I absorb the sight of the flowers, blooming freely without any idea of what kind of place they were blooming in. Hyacinths, lilacs, peonies, and hundreds of unidentifiable species fill the small greenhouse. The muscles at the corner of my mouth tug upwards, but I refuse to let Yoru see my smile.
"Vivi, remember when I said my mom died?"
I turned around to see Yoru looking at me, that strangely serious look on his face. The cadence of his voice changed dramatically. "Yeah?"
"She didn't die. Actually, she's here right now. But I can't see her." He looks down, a sudden interest in how artistically his sneakers blended in with the dirt carpet.
"Why not?" My query brought his eyes back up to mine.
"My father's prohibited it. If I see her, I'm giving up my right to the throne. And then Torikku will get what he wants."
"Why are you giving up your right to the throne? You're just seeing her? What harm could that do?"
"I'm not the Queen's son, Vivi. My mother was never made a Queen. She doesn't even know I exist. In her mind, I died when I was three months old." He hesitated. "Ok, what I'm about to tell you is something that only a few select people in the palace know. Just the King, the Queen, my half-brothers Loki and Chikau, my head eunuch, and of course myself."
Ok.... so why is he telling me this in the first place if it's so top-secret.
"If we find out that you told someone else other than the people who already know, we will," He paused in the middle of his threat, thinking deeply.
What? I already know you can't kill me.
"We'll let Loki go back to the Upper Realm. I'm sure you don't want that." Yoru smirked at me, but his eyes told me otherwise. They didn't look at me directly, and his pale cheeks tinted ever so slightly, indicating he was bluffing.
"Okay," I say.
"My mother's the Sibyl. She's been here a long time, and she still doesn't know that I'm her son." Yoru enunciates the last phrase breathily.
Oh. Okay. Um.
My mind isn't really saying anything right now. At least now I understand why he doesn't want me to tell anyone. The whole royal family would probably be faced with ignominy and then the people demons would stop trusting them.
The Tomorokashis are a weird family. Lots of secrets.
"Well, yeah, that's all there is to it. I'll see you back to your room." Yoru holds a hand behind his head, abashed. I smile softly. He doesn't see me.
We walk back to my room in silence. Yoru's lost in his own little world, and every time I look at him, he's staring off into the distance, probably thinking about his mommy issues. We get to my door.
"Alright, well, see you around. I'll come back to bother you." The teasing factor inches its way into Yoru's voice.
"Thanks, but no thanks." I say my usual flippant remark half-heartedly.
I close the door and count to twenty, then I crack it open again and peer out with one eye at the slit. I can still see Yoru walking down the stairs, grinning wide and laughing to himself every now and then. Happiness glowed on his face.
He looks like a boy. Like a real boy.
I shake my head vigorously. I wait until he's completely out of sight, and then I silently draw my body out of my room, without opening the door any wider. I have to suck in my stomach and turn my head sideways, but I do it. I walk down the first flight of stairs gently, the person I was seeking on my mind.
Where is he? Where is he?
Finally, I arrive at the Sibyl's doorstep. I pry apart the curtain, but neither the Sibyl nor my boyfriend are inside. I sigh, and turn back.
My lowered head hits a solid surface and I look up, a fervent apology on my tongue. The eunuch chuckles at my frightened features.
"Come now, Vivi. We are old friends, are we not?" He smiled lecherously at me. I grimaced.
"Not really, you did try to kill me and Darren."
"My sweet child, heavens no. I was merely doing my job. I steered you to the palace gates. Although I must say, I'm a little worse for wear because of it." He rubbed his arm. "Your mist is very strong. Where did you find such a valuable weapon?"
I clutched my 'very valuable weapon' tightly in my pocket. "I found it."
He nods, but I could see he didn't believe me. "No matter. I have something I must say. Come with me." He leads me to an empty room that looked like it was used for important conferences, except the chairs had plush velvet cushions, colored a deep crimson.
The eunuch sat down on a chair and beckoned me to sit on the one next to him. I ignored his waving hand and plopped down on a cushion two chairs away. He smiled and retracted his hand.
"Is it true?" I ask. "Is his mom the manager lady?"
Old man looks at me. "Yes. She does like to masquerade as a cafe owner. I'm not sure why. But how did you find out? That information is top-secret."
"So I've heard. Yoru told me."
"His Highness did? Really?" Old man was aghast when I nodded.
We sat in silence for a time, until my curiosity spiked. "So what did you want to tell me?"
"Oh. Almost forgot. It's about His Highness. Why he's like that."
I sit up, fully captivated by the subject matter. I knew Yoru was hiding something.
"When he was really little, His Highness had a best friend. A little mortal girl, a little older than him. Her name was Poppy, I believe. Feisty little girl. He used to sneak out the palace every night and meet her in the Upper Realm. And then, one day, he killed her. He said it was by accident. He said he drank her blood like his father told him to, and she just dropped away. He was heartbroken. And you know about his mother. Sibyl doesn't even know her son is alive. It's all very sad."
I get a strange feeling from this man. He's trying to tell me something.
"Don't get too close to His Highness, is all I mean. His ties to this world are too great. We need a ruler like him. His anger and sadness would make him a useful puppet."
Now it was my turn to stare, aghast. This eunuch didn't just want power, he wanted the throne.
"Now don't go flapping that little mouth. Just because Yoru won't kill you, doesn't mean I won't." With that eerie statement, he got up and left the conference room. I remained seated, eyes burning a hole into the chair where Old Man had sat.
He wanted to make Yoru into a puppet ruler. And he wanted to be the one pulling the strings. I winced. This world did not have it looking good the next couple of generations.
What business is it of yours, Vivi? You don't care. You just want your life back. And to get out of here.
What he said about the girl. Yoru most likely loved her.
I got up as well, and sprinted out of the room. I went back to Sibyl's cave, in search of Darren. No luck. I hurried upstairs to his room and started banging furiously on the front door. Knocking with etiquette.
"Darren!" I called out with each bang. "Come out!"
After a while my fist started to hurt. I dropped it slowly, admitting my defeat, when my hand fell on the doorknob. I turned it. Unlocked!
I walked inside, and Darren sat there cross-legged on the floor, various potions in front of him. I wondered what they were for, then I remembered he was trying to leave without me.
"Darren?" I prodded him with a finger. His eyes were closed. "Are you dead?" I prodded him a little more.
His eyes flew open. I started back, surprised at the sudden consciousness. He relaxed when he saw me. "Hi, Vivi."
"Don't hi me, jerk. I know you want to leave without me." I crossed my arms and glared at him.
His eyes flitted from side to side. I could see the engine of his brain working as he struggled to come up with a decent enough excuse. He then settled his eyes on my shoes.
"Yeah, forget it. I don't want your excuses. Yoru told me something. And I want to know if it's true."
"Ok," He nodded, relieved by the subject change.
"He told me he had a brother who ran away after a fight with the King 5 years ago. Afterwards, the King banned his return to the palace. Said he would be killed if the King ever spotted him. What an interesting story that was. Don't you think so, Loki?"
Darren twisted his neck to look up at me.
The situation was severe, and certainly did not catalyze laughing, but I couldn't help a smirk. A deer caught in headlights. A dog being found guilty of a crime. An infant tasting a lemon wedge for the first time.
It only lasted a second, though. Then Darren quickly recollected his jaw from the floor, and narrowed his eyes so he looked less like a crazed psychology ward patient and more like the guy I traveled through hell with.
"No, Vivi, I-I don't know what you're talking about. What do you mean?" Darren, or more accurately, Loki, looked behind my head while he spoke to me.
"Yeah, ok." I continued smirking at him. "Well, anyway, I know now, and you stammering kind of confirms it." I lifted my chin and whipped my head around, determined to walk out of the room confidently while the fists at my side were shaking and globs of water were threatening to break the boundaries of my bottom eyelid.
"Vivi, wait," I heard Darren call out from behind me. I turned back but didn't walk into the room again. Loki stood up and faced me.
"Yoru's right. He's my brother. We're only a few months apart. He used to be my best friend when we were kids. Obviously. But 5 years ago, I was 13, and the king was rushing me to find a demon wife so I could take the throne soon."
"Wait, hold up. You're older than Yoru?" I had crossed my arms, but held up a hand at Torriku's revelation.
"Yeah. I'm actually 20, in human terms. Yoru's 19. I was supposed to be the next in line. Did he tell you that?"
I shook my head no.
He scoffed. "Of course not. He wouldn't have said anything to put his power in a vulnerable position. Anyway, I didn't like what the King said and I didn't like this world because my mother hated me, my father didn't understand me, and the only person I trusted was my brother and he wasn't on my side. So I left. I thought I could clear up my mind or something. And I lived among the humans. With time, my demon-ness started disappearing. I lost my sharp teeth, and my special ability. My strength was cut to almost nothing. I-I was just too embarrassed to come home, you know? And then you came along, and all the guys were in love with you. Danny, Jack, and Richard. You were really pretty. We were like your little slave men, and you never even knew. A lot of the jocks liked you, too, but we formed a team to keep them away from you. Your own fanboy club." His ears turned red and he was still not looking at my face, which gave me the perfect opportunity to smile really wide. "Your friend, um, Yvonne, had a really big crush on Richard but he liked you too much so he turned her down. Did she ever tell you that? Oh, crap, I shouldn't have told you. Sorry."
He looked carefully at my face, gauging my emotions at the moment. Obviously he deemed it safe to continue. "Then, you found out about the whole demon world. I was following you on your date, not because I was a stalker, I really was just in the area. I was visiting Manager, or Sibyl. I knew who she was. Of course I knew who she was. And when you went down that hole, I knew I had to follow you, or else you would die. No mortal ever survives it down here without a demon guide. So I followed you. Sorry, for um, lying to you." He finished his spiel and looked down.
I smiled slightly, then immediately turned the corners of my mouth into a tight frown.
No. This guy doesn't deserve forgiveness. Definitely not. I'm mad at him! I'm so mad at him. He's just a teenager that got mad at his parents, or parent whatever, and ran away from home. He's immature! Not to mention he lied to me. And all this way, too.
"Ok," I said. And then I turned on my heel and walked away, letting my lips form themselves into a small smile, quickly covered by a hand.
Another 4 months or so passed. I didn't speak to Loki once after our meeting, and he never sought me out either. But Yoru came every week, and then every day. He took me on walks and tours. I met Erik and Agatha and the Queen and even Sibyl. Yoru was fine during the Sibyl visit, but he kept being an extraordinary ass. So I pulled him out quickly and apologized to Sibyl. She nodded and smiled placidly at me. "It's quite alright, hon. He's always rude to me. I never knew why."
I knew why. But I nodded and went outside to meet up with Yoru again. He took me to see more paintings and more secret hideouts. We met with Chikau, the third brother, who was also 19, and a few months younger than Yoru. He was pretty handsome too, if I do say so myself. He had the same prominent facial features as Yoru, but Torriku's light hair. He had light blue eyes, and very tan. I could see the resemblance between the brothers, until Chikau bowed at me and kissed my hand, stooping to one knee. He addressed me as Lady and had like a French accent or something. It threw me off and I whispered to Yoru that I needed to get out of there.
We went to the greenhouse a lot, so much that the unique flowers became a familiar and welcome sight to me, just like Yoru showing up at my door with a jasmine clipping.
He showed me a chamber that had opalescent walls, almost transparent, too. He showed me extravagance in every name and form, and by the end of our "travels" I was always speechless when he brought me back to my room. My own capacious living quarters suddenly felt tight, and then I eagerly awaited the next day, when I would see Yoru and another amazing facet of the palace again.
Week after week, day after day, it was pretty fun. And then I started to actually enjoy my time here. I liked it. The palace had so many intriguing things to share, and I was happy to absorb everything.
I was talking to Yoru just like I had done yesterday, the day before that, and the day before that. We were talking about a flower, one that I had caught a glimpse of in the front portion of the greenhouse. It was strikingly violet, but star shaped. It had 5 ruthlessly sharp points; the violet color was most potent in the center, but as the flower grew, the color weakened. It was beautiful.
"What was it?" I asked Yoru. He looked at me, smiling but not smiling.
"It was my best friend's favorite flower. Other than Loki, I mean. My mortal best friend. I went up and got it from a garden where it grew. In Japan."
Yeah. Poppy. I remember. Stupid question, Vivi.
I reached out a hand, instinctively, to pat his shoulder. Honestly, the guy looked like he was going to cry. So I patted him, robotically.
A pair of fiercely strong hands grabbed my shoulders and whipped me a good 10 feet away from Yoru in an instant. I swiveled just a few inches to see my attacker's face. He had a black mask on that covered his upper face. I looked at Yoru, pleadingly.
"What the-" Yoru shook his head furiously and stared at me. "Who are you? What do you want?" He demanded of the attacker.
"You know me, Your Highness," croaked the familiar voice. I widened my eyes, but Yoru's blood drained out of his face entirely. The attacker whisked his mask off with his free hand.
"Hello, sir," purred the eunuch. "Fancy meeting you here." He laughed and bared his teeth. I couldn't see much, since his broad hands held my neck from rotating excessively, but the trademark long incisors came out and I panicked.
"Yoru! Yoru, do something! He wants to kill me to get to you! He wants the throne! That's why he's threatening me!" I screamed.
Bad move. The traitor swung his head towards me after hearing those words and smiled. "I told you not to tell anyone, darling." He lunged his head forward, to my neck. I closed my eyes tightly, bracing myself for the pain I knew was coming.
I opened my eyes, uncertain of why I was still breathing. With no pain. I fell backwards on my butt and scooted backwards quickly. Yoru had stuck his arm between the eunuch's teeth and my neck, and now those creepily long incisors punctured Yoru's pale pale skin.
But there was no blood. Just Yoru screaming silently, and the eunuch realizing he made a critical mistake, but too deep in to withdraw. I looked around, all those years of playing paintball kicking in. Frantically, I grabbed a garden shovel and smacked the eunuch's head with it, as hard as I could.
Unfortunately, this did not play out like a bad movie. Hence, the eunuch did not drop to the floor dead and Yoru did not look at me dreamily for saving his life.
The smack actually did not work. By that, I mean there was absolutely no effect whatsoever. He didn't even turn around. I forgot that the demons have the strength of a hundred men.
I didn't have anything else I could smack the guy with, and Yoru was getting even more pale, if that was possible, so I did the only thing I could think of.
**This portion may elicit undesirable emotions due to the graphic horror of the words. Read on at your own risk.**
I gripped my garden shovel, faced its metal point up, crouched down, and jammed it between the eunuch's legs. Now, I wasn't even sure if demons had penises, but it looks like they do, and that it's just as sensitive as a human's, because the eunuch screeched and let go immediately. I winced as blood, which was actually red, came spurting out of the wound I had created.
The eunuch fell back on the concrete pavement and hit his head on the fragile wooden pillar supporting the climbing Arum Lily. For a second, nothing happened. Then the pillar broke and the entire left side of the arch of toxic blooms came crashing down over the eunuch. I sucked in air through my teeth and whistled.
I looked back at Yoru, expecting him to laugh with me.
"Holy crap! Yoru!" I rushed to his side, where he was unconscious on the pavement. The wound in his arm was enormous and ugly, two clean puncture wounds so deep I could see his bone. I shook his shoulders, willing him to wake up and be ok.
I felt his hand grab mine and pull. I fell on his chest, and the heat rushed to my face. I pushed myself up with my free hand. "What's wrong? Yoru, do you need help?"
Without opening his eyes, he said, "That was. Bad. Ass." And then his hand went slack.
Crap. What the f*** do I do now?
"Help!!" I shouted, running out the door of the greenhouse and finding Erik. "Yoru-Yoru got bitten by the head eunuch! And now he's dead or something!"
"Jaden did that? Ok, take me there," Erik didn't really look fazed at all, which kind of made me speculate just what kind of mischief Jaden had done in the past.
I nodded and ran back, Erik's footsteps a step behind me. Yoru remained prone on the pavement floor, and Jaden (head eunuch guy that tried to kill me) was still partially buried under nearly 500 deadly, coma-inducing, and fragrant Arum lilies.
I turned around, ready to point out the patient (Yoru) to Erik, but he had already rushed to the prince's side. I kneeled down next to him. "Uh, so Jaden tried to kill me for some reason; I don't know why, and then Yoru stuck his arm in and Jaden ended up biting Yoru. And then I grabbed a shovel and stuck it up his, um, yeah. And then he fell back, hit the pillar, and all the flowers fell on him." I forced a sheepish smile, even though my palms were sweating and I kept praying for Yoru to open his eyes.
"Okay, I'm going to take him to the Royal Physician." Erik scooped Yoru up like he was a sack of flour, although I'm guessing he weighed about 65 kg. He ran out of the room and up the stairs with astonishing speed, leaving me gaping in the room and then scurrying after him.
We ran up the stairs to the third floor, where all the guest and royal chambers were located. Erik princess carried the demon prince to about the 5th room left from the grand spiraling staircase, unceremoniously kicked down the door (even though there was a perfectly functioning doorknob), and laid His Highness down carefully on one of five sheet-covered cots in the corner of the room. There were paper butterflies hung from the ceiling every foot apart.
"Physician!" Erik yelled into the adjoining room, whose door was ajar.
"How many times, Erik, have I told you? I have a name. Use it." A middle-aged woman came strolling out, pushing her bright pink glasses up on her pointy nose. She wore an authentic white lab coat and had on outlandish makeup, with deep violet eyeshadow and hot pink lipstick. Her hair had been styled into the beehive fashion that had so popular in the 60s. Erik nudged me discreetly, and I stopped staring, ashamed.
"I know you do. It just seems a little strange to use it, Doctor Strawberry," Erik grimaced as he said the words. I turned around to the wall, hastily forced myself to sober up, and turned back.
Dr. Strawberry glared at Erik from the top of her disturbingly pink glasses. "Alright then, what seems to be the problem?"
Erik put on his Royal Guard face again and said in a low voice, "It's His Highness. It seems that one of our own has bitten him and drawn blood."
Strawberry nodded and proceeded to prod the unconscious Yoru with a plethora of different medical tools, most of which I was pretty sure only existed in this realm. Or maybe I was just uninformed about the variety of human surgical equipment.
After a few moments of prodding, Dr. Strawberry announced, "I need to start an transfusion line. Bring me some blood, Erik. Hurry up; they're in the back room."
Erik rushed away and I inched forward. "Don't you need his blood type?"
The woman stared at me over her glasses and pursed her lips. "Seems like you're new in these parts. We don't have blood types. Any kind of human blood will do."
I shivered and moved back a few steps. Erik came out from the back room and handed the red bags to the doctor, who then hung the bags onto a pole and inserted a needle into Yoru's left arm, the arm that hadn't been marred by Jaden's teeth.
"Alright, it's all set. Erik and the girl, you can leave now. Go do your own thing. Prince Yoru will be up and about in a few hours, maybe a day." Dr. Strawberry made a shooing motion at us and went into her office, then closed and presumably locked the door.
"I'll stay and watch. It's my fault he got hurt anyway. You go," I told Erik. He nodded stoically and left. I heard his footsteps retreat down the stairs and back to his position at the bottom of the stairwell.
I pulled up a small wooden stool next to Yoru's cot and sat down. I looked at his face and sighed.
He looks like he's sleeping.
"I'm so sorry, Yoru. But why did you even try to protect me? Because you have my blood?" I whispered. I folded my arms down on the side of his cot and laid my head to rest there, closing my eyes and trying to fall asleep so I could let my worries wash away, like the tide and the sand.
I woke up to somebody gently stroking my hair. My face was turned away from Yoru, so I just held still, pretending I was still asleep.
When his hand fell to his side again, I lifted my head. He was awake, staring at the ceiling.
"Yoru?" I said quietly. "You're awake?"
"Mm," he mumbled.
"How are you feeling? The doctor said that you will be fine, since she gave you blood and everything."
He looked at the crimson bags hanging from his patient's pole and closed his eyes. "Why are you still here? Aren't you disgusted? We got that blood from a human!"
I grimaced. I was hoping he wouldn't bring that up. "Yeah, but it's keeping you alive. So, I'm grateful for this human. Whoever he or she was, I'm thankful."
Yoru stared at me, uncomprehending.
I sighed. "Ok, that was a lie. Or partially, at least. Of course I'm disgusted. But what I said before is also somewhat true. I am grateful."
That must have sounded sincere enough for him, because he smiled softly at me. And then my stupid heart started racing, and I don't even know why. Plus it was terribly annoying, so I got up from my chair and made a circle around the small area. Yoru's eyes watched my every move, which made me nervous, so I sat down again.
"Do you even know why I did it?" He looked at me, his blue eyes turning more blue, if that was a thing.
Did what? Oh, the protecting thing. Cuz he has my blood.
"Duty? Guilt?" I wasn't sure, but I said it anyway.
He shook his head. "Not entirely. I mean, yeah, somewhat. But not entirely."
"Oh. Okay." I tilted my head to the right about 25 degrees. "So....... why?"
"Because," Yoru sat up slowly and slid a hand behind my neck, parting my hair. Then he leaned in and pressed his lips to mine. And we were kissing. And it was different than Loki's kiss. But I didn't know how, exactly.
Wait. Waittttttt. This isn't right. Not right at all. Better push this jerk back. Who does he think he is, anyway?
I put my hands on his shoulders, ready to forcefully remove the connection between the two of us. Ready to listen to my reason.
And then I stopped.
But. Doesn't this mean I broke the spell? I made him love me. I can get my life-blood back now. I'm good! Oh my god!
I looped the hands that were about to push him away around his neck and kissed him back. I felt so happy. I was going back! Our mouths melded together and I felt a rush of heat traveling down my chest. My face and ears were on fire, but I didn't care. I was going back! Finally!
My chest blazed and my eyes flew open, staring at the wall behind Yoru's head. The thing that used to be a small green dot got bigger and bigger until it spread across the entire wall and moved on to encompass our bodies. And then Yoru and the hospital bed and the cheerful butterflies hanging from the ceiling all faded away.
I startled awake, my alarm blaring like the apocalypse was upon us. I looked around frantically. This wasn't my room. No fireplace, no dim lights. Instead the window blinds let in the fragile morning beams, and the white furniture stared back at me. I stood up quickly and opened the blinds, almost breaking the cord in my haste. Outside, there was green. Actual vivid green. Green that I could see and feel. I was agog to do so.
There was the sidewalk that I remembered outside my house.
There was the basketball net that Liam and I used to play with as children.
There were my friendly neighbors whose names I still didn't know, walking their dog.
I held a hand to my mouth.
Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. Am I really back?
I threw open the door to my room and caught a sleepy Liam across the hall. There was my little brother, with his ruffled hair and rumpled clothing. I leaped on him and gave him a huge hug.
"Yo, Vivi, what's up with you? You're never this cheerful in the morning. Get off. You're creepy." Liam pushed me off him, annoyed. I laughed and got ready for everything. Even my old bristly toothbrush was a welcome sight.
I bounced down the stairs and met Mom and Dad in the kitchen. I hugged Dad tightly. "I'm so glad to you see you, Daddy!"
My father looked at me strangely. "I'm happy to see you, too, puppet." Liam walked down just then, yawning. My father pointed at me and whispered loudly to my brother. "What's wrong with her?"
Liam shrugged. "Beats me. She hugged me, too."
I hugged Mom around the waist, but I received a brisk "Don't do that, Vivi. You want me to spill the eggs on you?" I sat down, bummed.
Then Mom turned off the stove and plated the breakfast, setting it down in front of each of us. "Thanks, Mom!" I shouted, overly excited, then got up to give her a hug again. She laughed.
"Vivi, what's up with you today?"
"Nothing! I'm just so glad to see you all!" I looked at my family. Mom and Dad looked at me with slightly worried yet happy expressions on their face, and Liam just looked downright pissed. I giggled.
I was back! For real!
I ate my breakfast and left for school with Liam. He drove me in his car, without saying a word, as usual. I was talking nonstop about what a great day it was today, until he glared at me ferociously and almost caused us to have a car accident. Then I shut up.
At school, everything was normal. Mari, Yvonne, Erica, and Rhia were at our lunch table in the morning, exchanging all the latest gossip.
Then I went to math class. And it was like usual. Jack, Danny, and Richard waited for me because they were the first ones there. Loki, of course, wasn't there. And the teacher came in and gave us a droll lesson on logs and lns and their complements (exponent base 10 and exponent base e, respectively).
But then we were in the middle of learning how to solve an equation with an exponent variable on both sides, and then he walked in.
He looked so different from the obnoxious demon prince he once had been in my eyes. A pair of big blue Nike shoes, black pants, a white shirt with a long gold chain. His hair was covered by a gray snapback. Yoru looked, well, like a punk high school student. Everyone stared, and the girl sitting next to me, I think her name was Laura, all but started drooling. Even the teacher paused his lesson to take a look. "Darren? Welcome back, son. Take a seat. The one behind Vivi is free."
I stared at the board, although I very much felt his eyes burning a hole through the back of my neck. I ignored him dutifully, at least, until class ended. The students flooded out the door, hurrying to their next class, but I grabbed Yoru by his chain and dragged him outside.
"What the hell do you think you're doing here? You're a demon! Go back to... there," I gestured vaguely at the ground.
Yoru smiled. "Aren't you even the slightest bit pleased to see me?"
I sneered at him. "No, not really. Now will you go back? And why did that teacher call you Darren? Where's Loki?"
Yoru gave me a signature smirk. "No, I won't go back. I'm Darren to everyone now. In their minds, at least. Mind wipe!" He said the last sentence in a sing-song voice. "Loki's down there. Making up with the King, I guess. And Chikau's in line now. Since I'm here. Now I have to get to -" He looks at the schedule in his hands. Darren's name is printed at the top. "Physics, Room E35. See you, Vivi."
I stood there, following Yoru's strut through the hallway of Mica High. I sighed. I looked at my own schedule. "Latin, room A3." I hefted my schoolbag and wondered why I let a demon prince walk around in my high school, knowing who he was.
I kind of go through the day in a blur. Everything melds together after that math class. Meeting and chatting with the girls wasn't as exciting as it was in the morning. I walk home with them, because Liam had an after school activity, which meant I was home first. They were talking about something that I just had no interest in. Something about the new horror movie that just came out. Normally, the topic invigorated me. But, I guess after everything I’ve been through down in the demon realm, I’ve experienced enough of my own horror to care that much about watching others. Mom and Dad were out buying a new dryer, since our house had randomly decided to break down the home appliances. I was alone when I got back. Just me, myself, and I.
I went to my room. I threw my bag down and plopped my butt on my black swivel chair. Today was exhausting.
Especially seeing Yoru.
"Why the hell is he even here?" I muttered to myself. "Here and confusing me all over again. I thought it was over after he kissed me. Ugh." I scratched my head fervently and stood up, ready to pace my room.
The little stuffed animals on my dresser mocked me. They grinned at me lecherously and I wrinkled my nose. "Yeah, so what. He's hot and kind and perfect and he kissed me and I kinda liked it. So what! He's a demon! He shouldn't even be up here. What the hell?" I pressed a hand to my head. "I don't know what's wrong with me now. I shouldn't be thinking of him. Why the frick am I thinking of him?"
"Because you like him."
Crap. Liam must have come home and I was so drawn into my own monologue I didn't hear the door open. Crap. He heard me? I turned around. "Liam, it's not what you think."
Ok. Not Liam.
Yoru grinned at me. "Hey, Vivi. Surprised to see me?"
I sputtered. "What-what? Why are you here? Wait, what? Why are you here? I don't get it."
Yoru looked around from where he stood in my doorway, one foot in, one foot out. "Well, that's easy, kind of. I came here. For, um." He bent his head, and squeezed his hands into fists. Which made me smile.
"For what?" I asked. Yoru put his other foot over the threshold.
"For you, Vivi. For you."