“For the gentleman,” a old woman states.
I've never seen a woman so old in Eden but as I look around multiple old women are walking up to me. Most the people in Eden are young people. We are in a field. I've never seen it before. It's nighttime but the red sky is redder than usual. All around us are these flowers. Black flowers.
She hands a flower
Justice smiles and hands the flower to me, “This is the Black Rose Garden. I wanted to bring you here...”
The black roses gather around us. I'm not sure what is more depressing: the black roses or the old women. The old women are all around them watering the roses. The roses have five petals. The roses have thorns. They grow in batches.
“It's not. I promise,” Justice laughs, “Give it a chance.”
He grabs my hand.
I hesitate. A part of me doesn't want to be here. This place is a depressed field right outside of the city walls. I am so close to the walls of Eden that I can see the old buildings start from a few blocks away. The field is small. It's so dark that it seems like we are walking among blackness. It's so fucking depressing.
“I don't understand why we're here,” I tell Justice.
The old lady next to
me smiles, “A rose for the boy as well.”
She walks away at that moment with a tender smile and then leaves.
they?” I ask, “Why are they old?”
“The old women are called the Proven,” Justice explains, “The Proven are old women who were turned into vampires at a very old age. They work the black garden every year around the time that the seeds bloom. Black roses only grow once a season. It's a rare occasion.”
He says it like this is a big deal.
I shrug, “Why
would someone turn an old lady into a vampire? That's depressing to
live forever in that skin.”
“You think?” Justice asks.
“Hell yeah. If I'm living forever I want to be in my 20s when I change,” I explain, “Wouldn't you?”
Justice shrugs, “They're reminders.”
“Reminders of what?”
“What it's like to grow old. What it's like to be old. I think Eden doesn't remember for the most part. Everyone is young...forever.”
I shrug, “I don't want to be reminded how it is to look old.”
“Look at them.”
The women are so cute. A few of them are running around the black roses. They water them and sing with one another. I haven't seen something like this before. I haven't seen this communal sense of being in a while.
“Why are they
smiling so much?”
Justice laughs, “I come here every year. Every year they are like that.”
“Yeah...there is happiness in Eden, you know?”
I shake my head, “And everyday for eternity they have to wake up and look at their wrinkled skin and gray hair. These women are crazy...”
talking for a while. He grabs me across my shoulder. Together we
look at these women wearing crappy clothing. Their hair is undone.
We sit there for a couple minutes in silence just taking in the
sight. I am convinced watching them that they are crazy but there is
something so interesting about all of this. No drama. There is no
competition. There is no backstabbing.
This is a part of Eden that I hadn't seen before.
“I don't know.
There is something...nice about growing old. These people they've
lived their human lives completely. It's something that the vampires
of Eden can't really say. Look around. What has changed in Eden
from 100 years ago?”
“Exactly. Vampires don't grow old. They don't mature. They stay the same. It's the same 100 years ago and 100 years from now. Eden doesn't change,” Justice explains, “These old women are needed. They've grown old. Sometimes the length of time you've lived isn't important. Actually becoming old is important. Could you imagine how special that is. Seeing your beauty fade and having to realize that you are this older fragile version of what you once used to be. It's beautiful.”
Justice must have been around these old ladies too long. He was sounding crazy.
“I'll pass on that,” I respond.
I stand off, “Look
at me and my father. Look at you and yours. How can you really look
at someone as a parent if they are the same age as you?”
I think of Armando. The idea of him hurts. His betrayal hurts. I am not as competitive with Armando as Justice is with Nero but the relationship is still...odd..
“You think if
Nero would have gotten old your relationship would be
Justice shrugs, “Who knows? He still has something to prove. It's been 100 years and Nero still has something to prove. And in 100 years I will still have something to prove and so will you. It goes on forever. We live forever and we're forever young. I'm not wise enough. That's the thing about not growing old. You get experience if you live long. Wisdom is different. Wisdom is being able to say yes I've done those things in the past but I don't do them any longer. I can give you advice on how to be. Wisdom are these old ladies. Look at them. They come out in their rags. They don't care about looking good. They don't care about sex or shame. They have nothing to prove. They've proven themselves. They are the Proven.”
I look at the old ladies. They seem so carefree. They are in this field watering these flowers and they don't have a care in the world. They are talking among one another. They are laughing. They aren't giving each other the old vampire stare down I've noticed in Eden. Who their parents are don't matter. The way they smiled at me was almost like they didn't know who my mother was. They didn't care. When they look at me now and wave the smiles are...genuine.
Not a care in the world.
Not a single care.
“Flower for the boy?” one of the old lady asks.
She points at the flower. She has a toothless grin. She has gray hairs under chin. Her hair isn't long like Geneva, her body isn't tone like Nero, her skin isn't as vibrant as Lucca and her eyes aren't as bright as Justice. She is withered. She is old.
She is happy.
“Sure give me one,” I ask the Proven.
The Proven looks at me and smiles, “You have to pick it yourself. It's special.”
“You pick the flower. You watch it die. You're reminded.”
Her words are so simple but there is something so powerful about it. I look at the flower and wonder if there is a power in growing old really. Still I pick the flower. I might as well. I'll never grow old. I'll never look back at my reflection and see an old wrinkly figure of what I used to be. I'll be young...forever and maybe this flower would be the only thing to make me feel like I am growing old.
Maybe this is the only way that I'd truly mature.
The next day is work. Justice is working the team extra hard. Coco has healed relatively quick due to the vampire blood in her system plus the fact that her blood type is O. O Blood types just happened to be stronger, faster, quicker. Everyone here was an O Type blood except me. If they knew the kind of blood type that I had they wouldn't be wondering.
“You're a horrible shot,” Justice tells me.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I smile at him.
“Look at you. You've been smiling since yesterday,” Justice responds, “You watch your flower die or something.”
“No it's still alive and kicking...I have it in my room,” I explain.
“You see. Just the idea of the black rose is enough to keep you above the bullshit. Just think –black roses. Anytime you get upset---think black roses.”
It's lunch time. Armando has surprisingly joined everyone else today at the main table. He's actually talking. I have to admit that I hate it. I hate the feeling of being alone and Armando being the one to implement himself into the group before me makes me feel...like the outcast.
“Justice come over! Your blood is getting cold,” I hear Aiden yell out.
Aiden looks over at Justice and I talking. Justice has been standing at the table. Coco, Camilla, Lucca and Armando are paying no attention to me. They are talking among themselves.
Justice must notice, “You should come over.”
You've been training all day. You should hang out with your team.
After our performance last time it's clear we all need to work better
as a team,” Justice explains, “Please...for me. You
can't say no to this face.”
I look him dead in his face, “No.”
“Fine,” Justice says sitting down at the table that I'm at.
“What are you
“Including you. Whether you like it or not. You're not alone,” Justice tells me.
It's too late. Justice turns and waves his hands, “Hey guys why don't you come sit over here! It's kind of warm over there...”
The others seem to hesitate awhile when they see me but after getting that good thrashing from about our teamwork from Nero it is clear everyone seems to be wanting to be on their good side. One at a time they make their way over to the table. Even Armando comes. He sits far across from me. Unexpectedly the person who sits right next to me is Aiden.
It's awkward for a few minutes and I could kill Justice. What is he trying to do? Why is he trying to include me in things. I'd been the loner. I'd be the outcast.
“So Coco was telling me how she was a horrible shot,” Justice tells me at that moment.
He smiles at me.
Coco shakes her head, “Only under pressure. I'm going to put in a few hours after work this weekend to practice.”
“Maybe you can join her,” Justice states.
I look at Coco. This girl and me had never been friendly in the least bit. Honestly since I came back though she'd probably been the least of a bitch to me. Why not be friendly to her? Why try to push her away if she wanted to.
“C`mon,” Coco states, “It'll be fun. We can pretend the target is Nero.”
“The rejected lovers shooting at my husband?” Aiden states.
“Rejected?” I ask.
“You heard me.
It's ok. I understand. If I wasn't wearing the Lucky One I would
probably be taking aim at Nero as well,” Aiden says patting me
on the back, “I feel bad for you guys honestly.”
Lucca and Camilla smirk. I think about getting up from the table and just walking away. This is petty. Aiden's hand on my back though is more than I can handle. I think about getting embarrassed. I think about getting red in the face but I don't. I stare at the table. I am getting angry.
“Don't put your fucking hand on me,” I tell him, “I won't say it twice.”
Lucca and Camilla stand up. They are ready to defend Aiden. There was a time they would have jumped up to defend me like that. They've switched teams. Completely. I have to admit a smile gets over my face.
Coco is the one who calms everyone down, “Ok. Aiden. I was joking. There's no need to be like that.”
Armando nods in agreement, “Yes please forgive my son Aiden. Sometimes it takes a minute for someone to understand what reality is. Nero married you. Not Santos. You won. He lost. I'm sure Santos will understand that soon enough.”
My heart sinks.
Locking me in a room to kill me was one thing. Armando taking sides AGAINST me was another. I can feel my heart racing at that moment.
Justice shakes his head, “Santos doesn't need the Lucky One to be a winner.”
“Yeah Armando that was kind of uncalled for,” Coco jumps in.
“Armando I do appreciate you being here and understanding where
I'm coming from but I wasn't actually going as far as saying Santos
won or I lost. That was a bit harsh. It was just 100 years. And I
know they always love each other. I actually want everything to be
good between me and Santos. You know first hand how much I love
Santos. I just need him to...”
Armando finishes his line, “Respect your marriage.”
“Exactly,” Aiden responds, “This rift between us has gone on too long Santos. I still love you.”
I wished he'd stop saying that.
“Yes it's gone on too long. It's a long time coming that this end,” Armando states, “Nero and Aiden are married. This has to end. One way or another.”
Armando looks dead at me. The two of them had always gotten along. They had always had a father-son relationship that I had never had with Armando. I'd always been jealous of the connection between the two. Armando had raised Aiden. They were close. Now here I was listening to MY father tell me how I should just give up on Nero and be happy for Nero and Aiden.
Is this what peace in Eden was? My heart is racing. I'm attempting to calm down but it's so hard.
Aiden smiles, “See. You get me! Then we start to build up our relationships against like we used to.”
He waves his hand. He's being kingly throwing around his commands as though I'm some sort of peasant. He's lost his mind. Aiden really thinks he's trying to make peace with me right now.
Why would I want to rebuild anything with him?
“I'll pass,” I respond.
Justice looks at me. He mouths the words “please” at that moment. I look at Justice. Why the fuck was he trying to make me look weak in front of all of these people? Why was I sitting down and listening to him.
When I sit back down
Aiden smiles at me, “I wanted to invite you to my parade first
Lucca gets excited,
“Everyone's going to be there!”
Aiden nods, “Yeah. This is going to be exciting. The people want to thank me killing the Thirst. Can you believe it? Countess Roxanne will be presenting me with the key to the city. After that we are going to have a private dinner held by Countess Livia in my honor. Everyone's invited.”
The praise was getting to Aiden's head. One thing that Aiden loved more than anything else was Eden and the fact that Eden was giving him this praise was the highlight of his life.
Justice shakes his
head, “He'll be there...”
Aiden goes onto flaunt. I am trying not to spas.
Justice smiles at me
leans in and whispers, “Just let him have his moment. Fuck
him. You don't need him. You don't need Nero. But you don't need
revenge. Just get over it. You'll be there with me. I'll make sure
you have a good time.”
I turn to Justice and whispers between a chocked smile “You thought a thirst was bad. If this asshole keeps talking---”
Justice squeezes my leg, “Remember...growing old. Maturity. You may not be able to grow old but your flower is growing old for you. Remember. Black roses.”
Somehow that works. Somehow remembering the black roses helps and I am able to at least tolerate Aiden. To be honest it works well. To be honest I start blocking out everything Aiden is talking about for the next 10 minutes. He just keeps showing off his ring that he's purposely gotten out of the safe just to show off at lunch. The lucky one is flashing with a bright red light but not even the Lucky One bothers me.
Right now I'm looking at Justice.
Justice smiles at me slowly gripping my leg. He touches it softly.
Just at that moment there is are bells ringing. We turn to the entrance of the break area. I watch as Sinclair walks in. I recognize Sinclair as one of the King's Guard. He has protected Nero since Nero was young.
He walks in, walks up to Aiden and bows.
King Aiden. I wanted permission to present a gift from King
Aiden turns around to anxious giggles from Lucca and Camilla. His mouth drops.
“Oh my god he
never gets me gifts!” Aiden smiles at that moment, “This
My heart drops. Armando taking Aiden's side was the dagger into the chest. Nero sending Aiden public gifts of affection was twisting the dagger. Each time Lucca and Camilla laugh the dagger twists and twists and twists. It gets deeper. It hurts my soul to the very core.
For the moment all I'm thinking is fuck those black roses.
“Fuck this shit!” I say getting up from the table.
Aiden looks over at
me, “Don't you want to see what Nero got for me Santos?”
He's rubbing it in.
I turn. I could walk over to him. I could rip his head off. I can show Eden RIGHT now what I thought of their hero. I can show them right now what I thought about their Key. I'd rip the Lucky One right off of his bloody fucking finger.
I turn to him. Does
he notice? Does he notice the stare I give him?
Does he notice the fact that I take a step forward?
The lights flicker. Aiden raises an eyebrow. Lucca and Camilla look around wondering what is causing the lights to flicker. Armando's eyes are locked dead on me. A small smirk comes in the corner of his mouth.
Sinclair must not
notice because he starts talking again, “Actually the gifts
aren't for you King Aiden.”
I stop in my footsteps.
We all look at Sinclair.
Sinclair walks over to me at that moment. He hands me a gift, “Santos. These are cufflinks. A magnificent set of white classic radiant cufflinks, bordered with baguettes on the side and four round brilliant diamonds in the corners. They are mounted in platinum with swivel bars.”
Aiden is speechless.
Camilla mouth drops,
“Those cufflinks are from outside of Eden. They are worth more
than $100,000 dollars.”
“What's the occasion?” Justice asks, “He just sends cufflinks?”
Justice is bothered. I can see it in his eyes. I know that he is.
“You don't know what today sir?” Sinclair asks.
“No,” I say.
“How did he know that?” I ask.
I hadn't even remembered it. I hadn't even remembered my own birthday. I guess after a certain age it doesn't matter.
Lucca is in Aiden's
ear. He is saying it loud enough for everyone to hear it though,
“It's just a small token of appreciation between friends for
his birthday. That's all Nero is doing.”
Was he trying to tell Aiden that or convince Aiden of that? The look on Aiden's face lets me know Aiden doesn't expect it. It also lets me know that Aiden doesn't believe this is just some sort of gift. I stare at the cuff links and I'm blown away.
“Yes...just a small token,” Camilla nods.
Armando shrugs at
that moment, “He won't be bought.”
“Excuse me?” Sinclair asks.
Armando looks at
Sinclair, “Santos won't be bought.”
Coco looks at Armando, “You don't speak for him. Santos make up your own mind.”
I look at the cufflinks.
No. It would take so much more than some fancy cufflinks.
“Send them back,” I state.
are dropped at that point. Armando is the only one who expects it.
Sinclair stops, “Sir are you sure.”
My face is dark and emotionless, “Send them back to Nero.”
“The others too?”
Sinclair calls out to the door, “Bring in the gifts!”
My heart drops when the servants start walking into the room. There are presents on presents. Some are small. Some are lavish and some are simple. There are just so many. They fill up the first table and they fill up the second table. They begin to fill up the fucking floors!
My mouth drops open and I can't help but to cover it. What the FUCK was Nero doing?
Nero was saving no punches. At this moment Nero was going all out. He didn't care that Aiden was in the room with me. He could care less about his husband. The gifts start piling in. It's an endless procession of servants, King's Guards, diplomats and just anyone around. All of them bring in a gift. Each time a gift is set down my heart thumps a little bit more.
Sinclair lifts my
face off the ground and hands me a card, “This is from King
Nero. I'm hoping you choose to keep these gifts as this took a
decent amount of effort by a lot of people. Happy Birthday sir.”
I look down on the card.
It's a simple card.
100 years ago I met you and 100 years ago you made me the happiest man in the world. 118 gifts for 118 years of life. Gifts can't express how much you mean to me. So meet me tonight and I'll try my best.
I look at Aiden's face. Not even Lucca with his silver tongue or blunt Camilla can say anything. Something has finally shut them up. However as I look at Aiden's face I also look at Justice. He's hurt. Armando is overwhelmed. Everyone is just shocked and confused.
And for the first time in a long time I felt what those old ladies felt. I felt happiness.
“You aren't coming to the parade with me are you?” Justice asks.
He's standing outside of my room. I'm dressed in a tuxedo. Nero sent me a tuxedo as one of his gifts. A storage house was used to keep the rest of the gifts a couple blocks down. It'd take me a week to even go through all of them. Luckily I was able to find this dope white tuxedo that fit perfectly with the cufflinks that Nero bought me.
His eyes gleam. They are silver but right now they almost look a ghostly white.
“Is it because he's the King? He can afford to give these things?” Justice asks.
ridiculous. I'm not doing anything for materialism.”
“So what does he have that I don't?” Justice asks.
“History repeats itself,” Justice responds, “What if Nero breaks your heart again?”
“I'm not signing up for anything,” I explain, “I am just meeting him. That's all.”
“This is the second time you stood me up for him.”
I stand there for a minute, “Justice. You want me to remember how it is to be happy. What if it is Nero? What if it was always Nero? Shouldn't I be able to answer that for myself?”
Justice stands for a minute, “Go.”
“Just for tonight---I am. If my father wants to pull out all his cards two can play that game. I'm not out of it yet.”
I don't like the fact that Justice is referring to me as a game but I don't want to sit here and argue with him either. The last thing I wanted to do was end up at Aiden's parade even if it was with Justice by my side. I felt bad about leaving Justice behind but right now this was different. Right now I wanted to see Nero.
I find him standing in a private room. He has on a t-shirt and some slacks. He's wearing all black but the material drapes over him like a statue. His broad chest, his perky ass and his brown beautiful skin. His silver eyes look watch me intently as I walk into the room and I feel like prey. I feel like every minute he is threatening to swoop in and take me forever.
Nero smiles at me,
“I feel underdressed.”
“I thought this was going to be one of your fancy dinners...” I state.
Nero shakes his
head, “No. Not quite. Do you hear it?”
“The parade outside. It's hard to miss.”
I sigh. I don't want to think about the parade right now. I don't want to think about Aiden.
firecrackers walking up. Eden loves Aiden. I'm confused why you
aren't out there celebrating with your husband right now. Vigorosa
and Bat Chat are going to have a field day with that.”
He nods, “Eden loves Aiden. And I love you.”
I walk up to him. His smell is so...manly. Vampires are supposed to be the undead but I've never smelled someone that felt so alive. The closer I walk to him the more I just want to bury my head in him and be that weak little 18 year old boy all over again. I wasn't that person anymore. I was different. I was stronger, meaner...darker...
Or was I?
Maybe I wanted to be that person for Nero.
“I got your gifts. How'd you know it was my birthday?” I ask.
research. I was able to find records of you outside of Eden. Birth
records and everything of that sort.”
“You had people leave Eden for me?” I ask.
That is a suicide mission. Leaving Eden meant risking Lilith.
“I've done a lot of things a King wouldn't do for you,” Nero explains shaking my head, “I literally just spent hours arguing with Aiden who feels like I used tax money to buy your gifts. I had to let him know it was from my personal savings. He didn't care. He's spreading the rumors to everyone.”
“Nero, Aiden will turn on you... he's drunk with power,” I explain.
Nero nods, “I
“And I don't see Eden ever loving me more than they love Aiden,” I explain, “Not after seeing me ignore that Thirst.”
Nero nods and laughs a little bit, “I know.”
“So you can't divorce Aiden. And these gifts I love them but it won't lead anywhere,” I explain, “Maybe...maybe you should just...”
I struggle with saying it. I want him to let me go. Nero gives me a hard stare. I have the feeling he will go crazy if I say it. The look in his eyes is almost testing me to say it. I'm not sure if my AB blood would be able to calm his rage if I suggest it again.
“They want me
to turn on you.”
“Everyone,” Nero responds.
That wasn't a surprise.
“The petition is being passed to get you out of Eden. Thousands of signatures.”
“You can overturn it. You're the king.”
Nero shakes his head, “I can't. Countess Roxanne went passed me. There is a law. If she gets enough elders to sign it the law will be passed. I'm pretty sure she almost had enough people signing it. She wants you out. She's doing this for the city supposedly.”
“Fuck her. We'll find a way.”
“No we won't. I am going to sign it.”
My heart races.
“I'm going to banish you from Eden Santos.”
“ARE YOU JOKING! How could you allow them to do that?”
Nero shrugs, “I'm going to banish you from Eden and then I'm going with you. Self-Exile. Aiden can have it. He can have the throne. He can have it all. It's time we left Eden Santos.”
To read the next
chapter go to www.crushedcrown.com