Penelope gently closed the door behind her and tiptoed across the room, even though she was alone in the building. She stole a look over her shoulder, before pressing the button on the machine, watching as it whirred to life. She did this most weekdays, but today was different. Today she would try it for herself. As the pot filled with the red-tinged liquid, she anxiously glanced towards the door.
“Relax,” she told herself. “You have ages.”
It felt like eternity and Penelope thought she’d get some sort of repetitive strain injury from constantly craning her head round. Finally, the machine beeped to show it was finished. Penelope took a mug and poured a tiny bit of the fluid into it, enough to not be missed.
Another quick glance over her shoulder and she proceeded to lift the mug to her lips, took a sip of the unappealing liquid. It wrapped itself around her tongue, burning its way down her throat; acrid, metallic and vile. She scrunched up her face, spitting the remnants back into her mug.
“What is this stuff?” she muttered under her breath.
“Not to your taste?”
At the sound of this glacial voice, Penelope snapped round. “Dr. Vatore! Good morning! I wasn’t expecting you so soon!”
“Clearly.” Lilith stepped into the space the girl had hastily vacated and poured herself a brew. “Messages?”
Penelope took a deep breath and regained her professional demeanor as Lilith took a seat at her desk. “Judith Ward wants to bring forward the date of her next liposuction from the 17th to the—“
“OK. A reporter from the—“
“All right. That’s everything. So, today’s schedule; you have a consultation at two with—“
“Gertrude? Fine. But cancel the rest. I’m only doing the new drain therapy today; how many do we have booked in for that?”
“Perfect. Also, I need you to place a job advertisement for a new admini—“
“Oh? What happened to Caleb?” Penelope asked. I haven’t seen him for two weeks; I’m having withdrawal symptoms here.
Lilith rolled her eyes. “Don’t interrupt me. An advert for a new administrator and get Mortimer on the phone for me, immediately.”
“Dr. Goth? I believe he’s on holiday this week, in Sulani. That advert; is it for a temporary role?”
“No. Caleb isn’t coming back this time,” Lilith said; her clipped tone clearly indicating that the matter was not open for discussion.
Penelope lingered in the office, pouting, lost in her own thoughts. Why the hell did I wait for him to make the first move?! I should have stopped dropping my pen in front of him and just dragged him into the supply cupboard.
Lilith clicked her fingers, snapping the girl back into the room. “Penelope, call Mortimer. Don’t make me ask you again.”
“Yes, Dr. Vatore.” Penelope nodded politely and headed towards the door. Don’t take it out on me because you’ve finally driven him away, you frosty, stuck-up bitch. I’m definitely stealing another Botox shot today.
“Oh, Penelope? One more thing.”
“Yes, Dr. Vatore?” the girl replied, looking hopefully at Lilith’s suddenly brighter, more welcoming face. Caleb’s number? Early finish? Free butt lift?
“If I ever find you’ve been snooping in my office or stealing from me again I’ll be looking for a new receptionist and good luck finding another job with that record. Clear?”
“As crystal.” Penelope left the room; her thoughts a stream of expletives.
Lilith sipped her brew and scrolled through her emails until her phone lit up, displaying the name: GOTH.
“Mortimer! Enjoying Sulani? I hear the weather is nice this time of year.”
“I trust this is important,” Mortimer replied curtly.
Lilith checked the phone to ensure that Penelope wasn’t listening in. “Crucially. You have been withholding information from me.”
Mortimer didn’t pretend to misunderstand. “Patient confidentiality,” he answered.
“But of course. Unless there’s a story to sell for a good chunk of money, then you’re an open book, hey Morty?”
Mortimer cursed. Lilith heard him fumbling with the phone, making his excuses to someone, walking. There was a long pause before he spoke again, his voice hushed. “Caleb put me in one hell of a bind that night.”
You weren’t the only one. Lilith laughed, coldly. “I can imagine that convincing April’s parents their daughter was fine when the girl had evidently just been drained of all her blood must have been quite some feat.”
“Not really. Sandy was three sheets to the wind and preoccupied with her public image, as usual and Travis is a medical marvel; living as he does with his head firmly in his anus. The butler noticed, though he was accommodating of my diagnosis and requests for April’s treatment. He’s the finest actor in that house, let me tell you.”
“Treatment?” Lilith scoffed. “What treatment did you prescribe for your dead patient? Embalming?”
“She wasn’t dead. Well, not fully. She was already showing signs of unlife, Lilith.”
Lilith lowered her voice before she continued. “Then you should have brought her straight to me.”
Mortimer exhaled, angrily. “Caleb said that he would tell you, that you two would retrieve her. I trusted that.”
“You trusted him? I’m sorry, have you met my brother?” Lilith asked, sarcastically.
“Look, Sandy Moss was never going to agree for her daughter to be seen by anyone other than my trusted self. If April turned rabid before you got to her and finally managed to retaliate against her mother’s wrath, which I assume she did, it seemed rather just to me.”
“Entirely,” Mortimer replied. “Because perhaps it’s high time the world knew what you two are, Lilith. You informed me that my fears were unfounded; that you were both in control, tame. The boy is dangerous—“
“He is. And you’re worse,” Mortimer said, coldly. “You can’t see it.”
The line went dead. Lilith threw her mug across the room, landing it in the fish tank. She knew that Mortimer wouldn’t say anything to out her, but the way things were going, he probably didn’t have to.
Lilith was pulled back from the brink of a rampage by the sound of Penelope greeting someone in a professional voice that, on the surface, was quite polite. But like every face in Del Sol Valley, Penelope’s was fake. Lilith could hear the receptionist’s shallow, honest thoughts.
Gross! He’s so fat and old!
It appeared that Chuck had finally found somewhere to park.
Caleb had been waving his hands around for about ten minutes and Melinda was no closer to guessing. He waved his arm in a circle then gestured to his face, again.
Melinda watched him carefully before she spoke. “Right so it’s a play, three words and the first is ‘the’. The Air Face? The Atmosphere Cheek? The Sky Chin?”
“The Sky Chin?!” Caleb repeated, incredulously.
“No talking.” April reminded him.
Melinda sighed. “I have no idea. I’m not going to get it. I give up.”
“Over to team Flondie for a bonus point! Any ideas?” Faith asked her team mate.
“The Grotty Motel Man?” April guessed. “Oh! The Crappy Room Boy!”
Caleb slapped his face in frustration.
Faith turned to him. “None of us have a fucking clue. Put us out of our misery.”
“No!” Caleb protested. “Come on, Melinda! I know you know it.” He repeated his actions.
“I don’t know it!” Melinda shouted, causing everyone to jump. “I don’t know this freaking play, Caleb! Would you just drop it?!”
Caleb startled at Melinda’s outburst, but he didn’t relent and she didn’t apologise. “It’s The Watcher’s Eyes!” he said angrily. “Obviously!”
“Well, excuse me because I’ve never heard of it!” Melinda huffed. “You weren’t even pointing to your eyes and how does this,” she mimicked his general arm sweeping action, “translate to Watcher?”
“Because she’s all around us! Duh!” Caleb shouted.
Faith looked between the pair of them. They’d both been simmering since their brief but heated chat after Caleb had left the bathroom. April had begged everyone to put it behind them so, for now, they had.
Or so they’d said.
Faith had seen Caleb’s eyes flash ice blue before, but she’d never seen Melinda’s go eerie, milky white.
That couldn’t be a good sign.
“Is it a good play?” April asked. Faith didn’t know if April was trying to diffuse the situation or if she was oblivious to what was going on around her but just wanted to say something.
“It is,” Caleb replied, his expression softening as he looked at April. “Lil and I saw it a dozen times.”
“Maybe we should play a different game,” Melinda said. She had also mellowed at the sound of April’s voice, but still looked miserable.
“What game do you suggest?” Faith asked, playfully. “Want to put that vodka to some use and play spin the bottle?”
Faith watched her three companions exchange embarrassed glances between each other and her wicked little heart fluttered. Jackpot. But before she could wind down the rage and amp up the awkwardness, there was a knock at the door.
Everyone froze, looking towards the source of the noise.
“Maid service?” April whispered, hopefully.
“I’ll get it,” Faith said, getting to her feet.
“No.” Caleb placed his hand on her shoulder, forcing her to sit back down. “It’s still light out.”
Faith watched Caleb with a mix of thrill and trepidation as he headed to the door. Wondering if he’d sensed what she had; if he also already knew who was standing on the other side.
Seth waited patiently, replaying a few of his newly collected memories through his mind. Tabitha was a strange one. She had believed in the most ridiculous things; the words of fortune tellers, that crystals could heal, that she’d had a guardian angel.
He’d found her mind as bewildering as her apartment; both were completely full of junk that no sane person would collect.
No great loss.
Eventually it was Caleb who emerged from the room and closed the door behind him. Seth dropped the bag of bottles at Caleb’s feet and looked at him expectantly.
“Thanks,” Caleb muttered. “You can leave now.”
Seth tutted. “Where are your manners? I hiked all the way over here with a peace offering; you could at least introduce me to this perfect woman who’s stolen your cold, dead heart.”
“Where’s Tabitha?” Caleb asked, to change the topic, immediately wishing he’d chosen a different one.
“Various places,” Seth replied, without emotion. He gestured towards the door. “Lead the way.”
“You’re not going to give me a choice, are you?” Caleb muttered.
“I’ll give you a choice.” Seth smirked. “You can either welcome me and watch me be my loveable self, or you can shun me and watch me wreak havoc.”
Caleb rubbed his temples. “Fine. Whatever.”
“That’s not very welcoming. Going for the havoc option, I see.”
Caleb sighed, opening the door to be greeted by three curious faces looking up at him. His voice was as enthusiastic as he could muster.
“Ladies, this is my friend, Seth. Seth, this is April, Melinda. I believe you’ve already met Faith.” Is that welcoming enough?
“Ooh! So you’re Seth! I’m so pleased to meet you!” April gushed in an irritating, ditzy way that made Seth’s teeth grind. As she went to stand, he motioned her back to the floor. “Is it true that you can read minds and control them? That’s amazing!”
“It’s true,” Seth replied, absently. He couldn’t feign interest in the moronic blonde long enough to converse with her further. He smiled at Melinda who scowled at him.
“Melinda, why so quick to judge? Ah, Faith has told you some rather interesting things about me.” Seth looked to Faith with the flicker of a smile. “Perhaps she’s been embellishing the truth both ways; she made you out to be astute and hospitable.”
“She is, you’ve just come at a bit of a difficult time,” April explained, softly. She took her friend’s hand and whispered, “I know he looks like a hobo, Mel, but let’s give him a chance, hey? For Faith.”
“Caleb told me he didn’t have any friends.”
“Charming,” Seth murmured. “I’ll remember that.”
“I have so many questions, Seth! This is going to be so much fun!” April clapped her hands.
“So much fun!” Seth repeated, mimicking April’s action and girly tone, which made April giggle and Caleb clench his jaw.
Faith sighed dramatically, waiting until all eyes were on her before she spoke. “I guess I can put up with you for an hour or so, Seth. You clearly have nothing better to do than follow me around. We’re just about to play spin the bottle so who knows? You might even see some action tonight…”