The drive out of the city is completely cathartic. I can feel every little bit of tension float off my skin like reverse rain drops. I smile feeling free and released from all burdens as we drive into the night. Maximus looks deep in thought in the passenger seat. He’s still upset that I’m driving. I explained that I had to because where we are going is a surprise.
His eyes glance at mine sideways and I can see the torn look on his face. “What is it?” I prompt him, determined not to let anything be worrying him right now. He sighs audibly.
“I want to ask you about something, but I don’t want to take away the beautiful peace you’re feeling right now.” He explains quietly. I shrug at him.
“We’ve still got a long way to go, so ask away. I doubt anything could take away this amazing feeling.” I tell him confidently. He looks hesitant for a moment and I giggle softly, trying not to laugh at him.
“It’s about your father.” He leads. I let myself beam a smile at him as I keep my eyes on the highway.
“What did you want to know?” I allow. He exhales loudly.
“Do you know much about his parentage? Did you ever meet his parents?” I shake my head sadly.
“No. I remember my Papa saying he never knew his father. His mother died when he was just a boy, in a house fire, she saved him. He would always tell me that I had her spirit and her love of life, even as a young girl. I knew it made him sad to talk about her—he loved his mother so much—so I never brought it up. Why do you ask?”
“I only spoke with him for a moment, but I sensed something about him. Something strange, and I thought perhaps it might have been because of his parentage.” He explains mysteriously.
“What was strange?”
“He was touched by grace, I’m almost positive of it. I just can’t understand how.” Max’s eyes fill with a strange curiosity. I laugh out loud at him.
“Well I’m biased. I always thought my Papa was an angel.” I tell him teasingly. Max shoots me a sad look.
“I’m serious McKenna. Do you have any living relatives on your father’s side?” He asks urgently. I shake my head at him trying to be sympathetic. “Do you know the stories of the Nephilim children?” He asks as his eyes look haunted.
“That’s about the angels who mated with mortal women, right?” I ask uncertainly. He nods sadly.
“When their—the angels— treachery was discovered they were ordered to exterminate the entire family line of mortals that they had touched. It was an abomination, even Hell couldn’t fathom what was happening. So many mortals killed because of the weakness of a few. Over the millennia it has become less common because of the mass killings of years ago. Yet some still fall prey to the beauty of mortal women.” He trails of thoughtfully.
I almost choke on my laughter as I comprehend what he’s trying to say. “You’re saying that you think my Papa was the offspring of an angel and my grandmother. Then what? His entire family was wiped out as punishment? That’s insane.” I admonish shaking my head uncertainly.
Max’s hand reaches over to take my free one and hold onto it tightly. “I’m sorry cor meum. I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m just trying to understand something.” He apologizes. I start to think about the punishment he mentioned. My grandmother died in a freak house explosion as she tried to get her son to safety. I’ve heard of a few of the other family members on my father’s side all killed mysteriously. Then my father’s stroke, a freak catatonic condition falling over a perfectly healthy thirty-eight-year-old man.
“Oh my God.” I admonish. “He said he had so much he needed to tell me, things I needed to know.” Max’s hand squeezes tighter around mine. I take a deep calming breath, as I try to process everything. Thankfully Max just sits quietly as we continue driving. I try not to let my emotions get worked up, but I’m failing.
I keep taking deep calming breaths. The night around us seems to be mocking me with the emptiness of living a lie. My poor Papa, punished so harshly for a sin that was never his. I have to shut down this train of thought before I’m overcome with sadness. I store it away perfectly into the dark corner of my mind that conceals everything I don’t think about. That dark little corner keeps me sane, and fearful.
“Max?” I call him sweetly. His eyes shoot mine desperate to help me. I smile reassuringly at him. “I want to ask you something, but I don’t want to upset you.” He shakes his head at me.
“Nothing you could ever ask me would upset me.” I try to swallow as I think about the moment that has been replaying inside my mind for a few days.
“The other night, before you left.” I lead hoping I don’t have to explain any further. His haunted eyes return full force and I know he understands. “You were so happy then you turned so cold. You looked into my eyes and something triggered the same haunted look I see in your eyes right now.”
I listen to him breathe for a few moments and I try to steal myself for the explanation that I fear may hurt me even more than our previous conversation. The empty highway passes beneath the tires like a silent flowing river of blackness. I try not to look disappointed as he remains silent. I just stare ahead and keep driving.
When I finally turn off the highway onto the dirt road that is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, Max finally speaks. “Your eyes.” He whispers. “They were reflecting my grace, it was confronting. I haven’t seen it in so long I was in complete awe.” He explains gently. I look at him preparing for the other shoe to drop. He smiles sadly.
“Then your eyes glowed on their own, just slightly and only for a moment.” He confesses quietly. I try not to look shocked by this revelation. We stay silent until I find the turn off onto an even rougher dirt road. Max crooks an eyebrow up at me. “Where are you taking us?”
I smile at him trying to keep things light. “It’s a surprise, why are you scared?” I tease him.
“I don’t think you really know who you’re talking to McKenna. I’m Maximus, the commander of the legions of Hell. I’m never scared.” He says defiantly. I crook an incredulous eyebrow up at him.
“Except when your girlfriend is behind the wheel of the car.” I tease. We laugh as he looks at me in astonishment.
“Girlfriend?” He queries trying out the word for the first time. I mentally smack my forehead but decide to play it off.
“That’s the generally accepted term for what I am to you.” I tell him coyly pulling the car to an abrupt stop. I jump out of the car quickly. Determined to hide my flushing face in the darkness, in the middle of nowhere. Max is at my side in a second as his arms wrap around the top of my shoulders from behind me.
“That is a pathetic description of what you are to me.” He whispers in my ear as his teethe graze my earlobe. My entire core shivers with delight at his words. I slap his arms playfully and take him by the hand.
“We have to go or we’ll be late.” I tell him urgently as I lock the car and we set off on foot into the wilderness of the National park. After driving for almost three hours and hiking for another hour I’m starting to feel the exhaustion.
“How do you know where we are or where you’re going?” Max questions in the dark behind me as I lead him by the hand still. I smile at his trusting me to lead him into the dark. I pull him to an abrupt stop at the top of a canyon. There is a small rock opening of about four feet diameter. I draw his attention to the sky. Normally a black sheet, now littered with beacons of guiding light.
His I watch as his eyes widen and his jaw falls open a little in the clearing. I take a deep breath of the cool air as the smell of the evergreens and pine invades my senses. My eyes have adjusted enough to the dark that I can tell exactly where I am. This is the entrance to heaven, my heaven. I take a step backwards away from Maximus and his eyes focus on mine sharply as he takes a firm grip of my arms.
His eyes see the hole in the rock surface on the ground behind me. I smile wickedly at him. “If I was to fall, would you come in after me?” I question playfully. His grip on my arms tightens.
“I would never let you fall.” He declares boldly. I throw my arms around the top of his neck and crush my lips to his as he picks me up. We break away breathless.
“Do you trust me?” I ask him seriously. He nods seriously as I look down at the hole in the ground behind us. “Jump in.” I instruct him playfully. He looks at me doubtfully. I glare at him. “You can’t say you trust me then not actually follow through. Look I’ll go first.” I try to tell him as I lower myself from his body and take a step closer to the opening.
I can feel the warm air tickle the back of my ankle as he glares at me curiously. He’s doubting that I’m planning to really do this. Quick as a flash I turnaround but I’m not fast enough as a pair of arms pull back against a broad chest, before I feel us fall into the dark pit. I scream with delight the entire way down as the sound of rushing water in the canyon walls echoes all around us in the dark as Max’s body stays solidly wrapped around mine.