Caleb returned to the motel room to find Melinda watching cartoons and Faith glaring at him. He stared at her and she stared back.
“You look different,” he said, studying her.
“Do I? How?”
Faith scoffed after about thirty seconds of Caleb’s silence. “I’m missing about twenty inches of hair.”
“Oh, yes. So you are. You look good.”
“Stop staring at my neck; ain’t nothing in there for you. What took you so long? Thought you’d done a runner.”
“I got asked for ID,” he replied and held up the bottle of vodka. “I thought this would liven up the afternoon.”
“Yeah, I bet you did. I’m really getting the measure of you now, Fringey.” Faith checked the bathroom door was closed and lowered her voice to a suggestive purr. “You can’t wait to get us all drunk and naked in that filthy bed, can you?”
It was surely a good sign that this idea hadn’t previously crossed his mind, but now Faith had suggested it, it seemed to be impossible for Caleb to think of anything else.
“That’s not a good idea,” he said, finally.
“Oh. Is it not?” Faith pouted. “I thought, with you saying I looked good, that you fancied a little nibble on me.”
Holy hell; was he doing it again? Flustered, Caleb stumbled over his words. “Ah… what? No. I mean, yes you’re gorgeous, but… no. I’m with April and she really wouldn’t like that. Would she?”
“Wouldn’t like what?” April asked, peering out from the bathroom.
“Caleb’s bought vodka but it’s really cheap stuff, you definitely wouldn’t approve.” Faith grinned, took the bleach and glue and left Caleb dumbstruck behind her.
April closed the bathroom door, clapping her hands excitedly. “What’s the plan?”
Faith held up the black rope of synthetic hair, plucked out a stray bramble. “I’m gonna fashion these into some sort of wig for you, using this complimentary shower hat, the glue and that razor I found behind the toilet. Then I’m gonna bleach what’s left of my hair. Hopefully at some point I can get some dye.”
April looked at the matted, dirty extensions and the rusty, clogged razor with disgust.
“I’m going to be a brunette? Eww.” She made a face. “I have a better idea! Why don’t you make a wig out of these for yourself and we’ll bleach my hair?”
Faith gazed at April’s platinum blonde locks and sighed. She whipped April, playfully, with the plastic ponytail.
“Because then we’d look the same as we did before. Bloody hell, Blondie. You and Fringey are gonna produce dumbass babies; they won’t be able to find their way out of you.”
Caleb seated himself next to Melinda. Things had been a bit weird between them today and now with what Faith had just said he was trying not to look at her or the bed.
“Did I hear that right?” Melinda asked.
Caleb turned to her, horrified. “I honestly wasn’t planning to get you all into bed, Melinda. I’m sorry if it looked that way. It would make things really awkward and you might end up feeling left out as I’m not even attracted to you.”
“Yes, so you keep saying.” Melinda didn’t take it personally that she wasn’t welcome in his fictional, far-fetched fantasy. “Don’t stress, she was winding you up.”
“She was?” He sighed, a mixture of disappointment, relief and frustration that Faith had got him again.
“Yes. I didn’t mean the bit about the, um… activities. I meant the bit about them asking you for ID. For the bleach?”
“No, for the ten bottles of vodka.”
“Ten bottles?” Melinda asked. “Caleb, you have a drinking problem.”
“I wasn’t going to have it all. The lady at the store wouldn’t serve me, anyway. She said I looked under twenty-five and like I was ‘off my sweet face’ on something.”
“Are you? You’re kind of bouncy.”
“No, I’m just rather excited to be out on my own.”
“Hm. You’re free but we’re not, Caleb. We’ve all got to be really careful. Keep a low profile, don’t do anything hasty. Do you have the change for the supplies?”
Caleb’s face fell as it dawned on him what he’d forgotten to do. “There wasn’t any change.”
“It cost forty simoleons? For a bottle of bleach, a tube of glue and a cheap bottle of vodka?” Melinda massaged her temples. “That’s extortionate! It should have been more like twenty-five. Did they give you a receipt? I want to check they rang it up correctly.”
“No. No receipt.”
Melinda looked at Caleb who stubbornly avoided her gaze. She glanced at the bottle of vodka, piecing together the clues. “Wait a second. You said the lady at the store wouldn’t serve you so how did you get the vodka, Caleb?”
“Oh my gosh,” Melinda whispered. “Did you steal it? Is that why there’s no change and no receipt? Is that why you’re buzzing? Have you been shoplifting?”
“No! I simply… forgot to pay.”
Melinda scowled at him. “That’s stealing.”
“Damn. Yes, I guess it is.”
“You need to go right back there and pay for it!”
“I can’t! I zipped in at superspeed. What if they call the police? Or try and view the CCTV? How will I explain that?”
Melinda groaned. “Give me the money.” Caleb handed it over and she counted it before adding it to the rest. “Day one of being a free man and you’re already breaking the law! I guess you can’t go and fix it, really. But please Caleb, don’t do it again, OK?”
“Embrace disgrace, Amy. Embrace disgrace,” April repeated to herself, looking at the dead cat that Faith appeared to be holding. Faith stretched the cap over April’s golden tresses, tucking them in and neatening the ends of the black strands as best she could with her razor as she did so.
“It’s missing something,” she murmured to herself.
April curled a lock of the wig daintily around her neat fingernail and took a delicate sniff. She recoiled, wrinkling her tiny nose. “You could have washed it first! It smells like men! And not of nice, clean men such as Caleb. Unkempt ones,” she said with disdain.
Faith shook her head to clear preoccupation and clicked her tongue. “One second.” She left the room, leaving April staring into the empty mirror.
April could sort of understand why she wasn’t visible in there, but briefly wondered why her wig wasn’t. That wasn’t defying nature. Or maybe it was, it had belonged to Faith and it did look and smell like roadkill.
April then started wondering why her clothes and makeup weren’t visible in the mirror either and was bordering on an existential crisis.
Luckily, Faith had returned with a small case in her hands, distracting April from the rabbit hole she was about to fall into.
“Here, put these on. I don’t need them anymore. Not that I ever really wore them anyway.”
Faith handed April the plastic frames and April watched in wonder as they disappeared in the mirror as soon as she’d added them to her face. Thinking about how that was possible was hurting her head, but that might have also been Faith’s crazy prescription.
April blinked, trying to focus through the thick glass. “Oh my gosh, Faith! You’re blind!”
“Yeah, thanks for that, Blondie. Totally never knew that or worried about that every single fucking day, with my mum’s great eyesight and all.”
April shook her head. The wig barely moved, it had so much glue in it. “I look freaking ridiculous, don’t I?”
“You look very different, Amy.”
April rubbed a few strands of hair between her fingers. “It’s so crunchy. Will Caleb like it?”
“Probably not. But Thor might. Gimme a sec; let me just wash this bleach off. I think it’s been on long enough now; it feels like my scalp’s on fire.”
“You hate it, don’t you?” April asked, her lip trembling. “It’s just a wig! I can take it off when we’re inside.”
Caleb ran his hand over the stiff, plasticky hair and recoiled. “It’s awful.”
“Hey!” Faith shouted. “I did the best I could!”
Caleb was still looking at April, his gaze softening as he locked his eyes on hers, mirroring her sadness. His voice gentle, he wiped away her tears. “Hey, don’t cry. It’s all right. It will be dark in the cinema.”
“You still want to go on a date?” April gulped, trying to stop crying, as instructed. “Even though I’m really ugly now?”
“I definitely want to go on a date. And you’re not ugly, April.”
Night had fallen and the mystery man still had not awoken.
Lilith was glad she hadn’t taken any blood from him.
She wondered if Seth had meant to take so much. Of course he did.
Maybe he was hoping she’d finish him, accidentally and have some sort of breakdown about it that would slip her into old habits. That’s possible.
Or maybe he knew Lilith wouldn’t actually drink, so it didn’t matter how much he took as long as he left the man alive. But why?
“I think you’ll find you need him very much.”
There was definitely an ulterior motive here. Seth had explicitly responded to her question that he intended her to dine on this man, so that must be true. But then he had immediately changed course and cracked a joke in the form of a bizarre question.
“Do you remember where the veins are or do you require an illustration?”
She knew Seth; she knew that he was both insanely brilliant and critically flawed. He still couldn’t outright lie, but he had developed some mitigating methods. If he was cryptic enough he could deflect, tangle the truth, twist the perspective.
“I’m sure you’ll recognise him. Eventually.”
Eventually. So he didn’t want her to kill this man, at least not yet. That meant that this man was important somehow; him being here was a calculated move. Seth only ever acted for the benefit of Seth. How does giving me something I ‘need’ benefit him?
Lilith couldn’t understand it. Couldn’t focus.
Could barely keep her head up.
She had neatly stitched the mystery human up and subtly patted him down, looking for anything that might tell her who he was. All she found was a set of car keys. No wallet, no phone, no tattoos and no names sewn into his collar. No clues at all.
She would take a walk up to the bar or visit Hook Corner and see if she could locate his car.
But not tonight.
Tonight she had to keep vigil, keep control. She had surgery tomorrow. She could drink, tomorrow.
She lay beside the man, listening to the unfiltered stream of his dreams, broken and nonsensical. Perhaps if she listened long enough he would stop dreaming about hotdogs and identify himself, his intent.
Perhaps if she listened long enough something would make sense.