I can't believe I am getting away with this, I thought elatedly as I descended the stairs to the living room. My stilettos clacked softly on the wooden stairs, and for a second I was worried my mother would hear. My heart fluttered in my chest with anxiety. I was inches away from my freedom. As my hand stretched for the door handle, I heard the clicking of a light switch being flipped on.
"Going somewhere, Persy?" my mother's sharp voice inquired.
Whirling, I turned to face my mother. Hands planted firmly on her hips, her eyes scanning me appraisingly, starting from my three-inch stilettos, to the mini black dress I wore, and working all the way up to my face. Her eyes narrowed in disapproval as she stared at my makeup.
"Do you believe I will allow you to go out of the apartment looking like that?"
"What's wrong with how I look?" I snapped defensively. "This is how all the girls at my school dress."
Mother pinched the bridge of her nose, shaking her head angrily. "By that logic, because all the other girls dress like streetwalkers makes it acceptable for you to parade around dressed this way?"
I rolled my eyes. "I can't stay your little girl forever. Eventually you will have to let me grow up, and it's past time that you do that."
"That is true," she agreed, momentarily stunning me into silence.
"However," she continued, raising her hand, "this is not the way to do it. You're not in a rush to grow up."
"I am going to the party, and nothing you can say will change that," I warned her.
Her mouth tightened into a thin, flat line as a scowl soured her face. "Have you forgotten who the adult is and who is the child? If I say you can't go, you listen. End of story."
"No!" I shot back, the word echoing in the room. "I'm tired of never going out with my friends. I want a social life, and tonight, just for one night, I will have that. Besides, in a few days I turn eighteen. You won't control me anymore." I could not contain the smug tone that crept into my voice.
Thinking it was the end, I strutted to the door. Ignoring her indignant screams for me to come back, I slammed the door. I stormed down the street as her shouts faded into the background. A gust of frigid winter air hit me, raising a trail of goose bumps on my bare arms. The cold seared my lungs, and part of me wanted to turn back, but I used my anger to fuel me.
I plowed my way through the thick crowds of the busy streets of New York. The clacking of my high heels dwindled into the indistinguishable chatter of people's conversations. As the world passed me in a blur of swirling colors and bright city lights, I felt alone. This people had a destination, but I followed the crowd aimlessly.
Spotting a bench on the curb, I strode to it and sank onto it, planning out my next move. The cold of the stone bench seeped into the thin fabric of my dress, making me squirm uncomfortably. Shivers rippled down my spine while I watched my breaths exhale into little puffs of air floating up into the night sky.
"Excuse me, miss?" a honey-drenched voice called from the behind me. "You're obviously lost. May I call you a cab?"
Yelping in surprise, I craned my neck to see a man step out of the shadows. He appeared to be in his early twenties, college age, as he studied me with dark eyes that glimmered with amusement.
Approaching me, he took a seat beside me, too close for comfort. When I did not reply, he scooted forward until his hip pressed against mine. I stiffened and slowly inched away until half of my body hung off the edge of the bench.
"That won't be necessary," I replied through gritted teeth, trying to force my lips into a polite smile. Instead, they quirked into a grimace. I started to stand, but he seized my wrist in a firm grasp.
The man tossed me a flirtatious smile. "Come on. Why are you in such a hurry? Let me buy you a drink to warm you up." His sickly-sweet voice made my stomach turn nauseatingly.
"No thanks; I am leaving."
I struggled against his grip. Instead of releasing me, his hold on my arm tightened painfully and he drew me closer to himself.
"Playing hard to get?" he drawled in my ear, his moist breath caressing my jawline. "Relax, and let me show you a good time."
Moving one hand to my back, he traced slow, suggestive circles along my spine as his fingers slid down my waist. Shudders ran through me, like cockroaches crawling down my dress. Unable to take it any longer, I jerked away. His eyes flashed with annoyance, but he withdrew his hand.
"I'm leaving now," I told him defiantly.
Wrenching my arm out of his vise, I turned sharply on my heel. I could hear the thudding of his boots slapping against the pavement, and I quickened my pace. As I pushed through a sea of pedestrians, I wished for once I had listened to my mother.
"Come back here, you little tramp!"
Approaching the curb, I held one arm high, trying to hail a cab. My eyes scanned the endless line of yellow taxies for one with the number sign lit up. All of the cabs were occupied. The man's curses and threats filled my ears, mingling with the drumming of my frantic heartbeat.
I stepped off of the sidewalk, walking down the road and desperately searching for an empty cab. I ignored the car horns honking at me as I wove my way through the traffic. Far down the string of cars, I noticed one taxi with the number sign glowing brightly like a star.
Wanting to sob in relief, I strode to the cab, but as my fingers hovered above the car handle, I hesitated. There was something about the cab that made me feel uneasy, like evil lurking beneath its surface. Though as I saw the man on the edge of the street, ready to cross, I made my choice, Opening the door, I hopped in the cab.
"I saw what you did," the driver admonished. "That was extremely dangerous. Not very smart."
I rolled my eyes, not in the mood for a parental speech. "I didn't have a choice. He wouldn't leave me alone."
"Was it because of how you're dressed?" the cabbie countered.
My jaw dropped. He is not getting a tip, I thought darkly. Even though I knew he was not looking at my face, I scowled at him. A soft chuckle flowed from his lips, as if he knew I was glaring at him. As his laughter washed over me, I felt a sense of déjà vu, like we had met before. When I sifted my memories for his name, my mind went blank.
He mumbled, "A girl like you doesn't need to dress like that to be beautiful."
My cheeks burned, and I replied, "Have we met before? I feel like we have, but I don't know your name."
He turned his neck so he could face me. I gasped when his silver eyes locked on mine. They triggered something in my mind, and I was certain I knew who he was, but in an instant, the feeling was gone. A melancholic smile ghosted across his lips. "We met a long time ago."
"Are you at least going to tell me your name?"
The smile faltered, and he murmured, "Hayden."
"I know," he replied quietly, before facing the windshield again.
For several minutes silence stretched between us. Minutes crept by slowly as the scenery shifted. The roads became less congested with traffic. The nearly deserted streets thinned, opening up to a forested park area. I suddenly realized being alone in the woods with a strange man was not good.
"Uh, Hayden?" I asked uncertainly. "Where are you taking me?"
"Home," he replied. When he saw the fear etched into my face, he forced his lips into a reassuring smile that only terrified me even more.
"Please don't panic," he implored. "I promise I will explain everything once I have the opportunity."
Before I could respond, a rumbling broke the eerie silence of the night. I thought it was thunder until the car lurched, and the ground shook violently. I tried to scream, but my throat closed up, like it was filled with sand. As I was falling into darkness, the last thing I saw before my eyes slid closed was the flash of silver irises.
Despite my friends' warnings not to wander away, I strayed from the group. Their laughter and chatter faded into the distance as I drifted to the edge of the meadow. Leaning forward, I grabbed the prized flower I was after: a golden narcissus. As I pulled the stem, a wave of cold fear snaked up my arm.
A gaping black hole appeared as a sleek chariot drawn by black horses sprung out of the crevice. The thundering of hooves filled my ears, bouncing around in my skull. I stared at the stern-faced driver. His thin lips pressed into a grim line, and his intense silvery eyes swirled with emotions. His gaze focused on me, and his eyes darkened to a tempestuous gray. I tried to run, but my legs felt like deadweight.
As the chariot approached me, the man thrust an arm out, seizing me by the waist. I was too numb with fear to resist when he gently deposited me into the chariot. Tears flowed down my face, and he craned his neck to glance at me. Noticing my expression, his faced softened before slowing the speed of his chariot.
"My Persephone," Hades whispered as the earth engulfed us and we descended into darkness.
Instead of finding myself in a chariot, I was lying in bed. I was clothed in a simple flowing dress, something like a Greek goddess would wear, and the makeup had been wiped clean from my face. The skirts of my dress were tangled around my legs along with the silk sheets. The blankets pressed uncomfortably against my hot, sweaty skin. I tried to kick the blankets away, but I only managed to entangle my legs even more. Frustrated and defeated, I leaned back into the pillows as a thick arm reached across to peel the layers of covers off of me.
Closing my eyes, and opening them I waited for my eyes to adjust to the black shadows. I tried to force myself to remain calm, even though I felt like the darkness was smothering me. My gaze swept over the dark, unfamiliar room, taking in the gothic grandeur of the classical architecture. It dawned on me that this unfamiliar place was the Underworld. The realization made my insides turn into a block of ice as I felt beads of cold sweat forming on my brow.
As I stared into those unnerving eyes, a raw sob tore at my throat. Tears blurred my vision, and I did not realize they fell until a thumb gently stroked my cheeks. Strong arms cradled me as Hayden-Hades leaned forward to press his lips soothingly against my forehead.
"Shh," he murmured comfortingly in my ear.
Against my will, my taut muscles began to relax.
"Hades," I choked out.
He blinked in surprise but quickly recovered. "Let me explain, Persephone."
"Why did you bring me here?" I could not hold back the accusing note that crept into my voice.
He sighed, looking away. "The first time I brought you to the Underworld was over two thousand years ago. At first you hated it here, but as time passed, you eventually learned to reciprocate my love. However, that changed when you fell in love in love with Adonis. You begged me to let you go, but how could I let my sunlight leave me?"
Hades paused as a shadow fell across his face. I tried to meet his eyes, but he refused to look at me. The despair clouding his face made my heart twist with pain. Instinctively, I brought my hand to his cheek. He tensed before relaxing. When I glanced at him, his expression was unreadable, barricading his emotions.
"You were miserable here," he whispered bitterly. "Every stare you gave me was like a caged animal. I couldn't take it anymore! I let you go with him. You gave up your immortality to be with Adonis. But he betrayed you. He chose Aphrodite over you. He was unworthy of you. I know I am underserving of your love, but unlike him, I was always faithful."
"I'm sorry," I murmured numbly.
He eyed me with dark amusement. "Why are you sorry? It was my decision. I knew the consequences."
"What happened next?" I prompted, shifting uncomfortably in his arms.
"Because you were mortal, you died. Your soul was reincarnated, several times. It took me centuries to find your soul."
"Then how did you find me?"
"I had help," he grudgingly admitted, "from Aphrodite. After all she put us through, she owes me."
I started to question him more, but he stopped me with a raise of his hand. I wanted to question him more, but his eyes darkened to a steely gray that warned me not to press for information. A little unnerved by the gruff change in his demeanor, I turned my head to the wall.
Hades slipped his fingers through mine, giving them a soft squeeze before bringing my hand to his lips and pressing a sweet kiss to it. I shivered as his lips glided smoothly across my hand.
"But that is not important," he added in a husky tone. "I have you now, and I don't intend on losing you again."
I nodded and closed my eyes, feeling exhaustion and resignation surge over me. Hades caressed my hair, brushing stray pieces away from my brow. Tentatively, he moved his fingers to my back. My eyes snapped open, and I stiffened in shock, waiting for him to withdraw his hands.
He did the opposite. Instead of removing his hands, he tenderly drew small circles around my spine. It oddly felt soothing and familiar. Feeling my muscles loosen, I closed my eyes, letting my thoughts drift lazily. A hazy fog clouded my mind as I felt myself yielding into sleep. Hades mistook my peaceful silence for fear.
"Persephone, please don't be afraid," he pleaded, the edge of desperation in his voice pulling me back to reality. "I know it's a lot to take in, but I love you more than you can imagine. You will be taken care of, and everything you want and need shall be yours, as long as I have the power to provide it. "
The earnest words melted my heart. Despite all that had happened, I found myself trusting him. I knew we still had a long road, but I felt more secure than I had ever felt in my life before. The puzzle was completed, and the pieces had fallen into place. With him was where I belonged.
Opening my eyes, I smiled at him and whispered, "I believe you."
His lips broke into the first genuine smile I had seen. It transformed the shadows in his face, making his prominent cheekbones seem less angular. All the years of sorrow inscribed into his eyes faded, illuminated with a youthful glow of happiness instead. Hades cupped my face firmly in his hands, and I stared at my reflection in his depthless eyes.
Bending over me, Hades kissed me. My heartbeat faltered, and I had trouble remembering how to breathe. As his lips molded to mine, I sighed contentedly, reclining into his chest. This time, I did not fight the darkness.