This penthouse was amazing. The jerk who’d previously owned it had evidently lived here alone, was clearly loaded and the best part, loved his games. There was everything from old-school arcade machines to motion gaming mats and VR headsets.
Faith had tried to play those, but kept being asked for passwords she didn’t know. She wondered if Seth did. God, it was bloody amazing how he could absorb all the knowledge of his prey, even if it did make him a bit of an insufferable know-it-all.
The only piece of kit she’d managed to use was a games console, hooked up to the biggest TV she’d ever seen. It took up a whole wall and was only a few feet away from the sofa. It was insane.
She’d been playing for a couple of hours now. Her neck was aching from craning her head up and her retinas burned but she was in her element. There was only one thing missing.
Faith missed her friends. It was funny, she’d often ditch them to go to a bar or pursue a tasty piece of ass who’d made eyes at her, and she was probably the very definition of a fair-weather friend – but she never really realised what she had in her favourite will they, won’t they? pair until now.
Seth was fun to be around. That is, fun to be wrapped around; Faith couldn’t exactly say she was regretting her decision. But she couldn’t imagine him sitting next to her in his pants and playing games with her for hours. Then again, she still hadn’t got a clue what he actually did like. Except for seals. And murder. And going down on her, judging by how often he did it.
Her mind wandered back to its frequent preoccupation.
She should probably just put on her big-girl pants and ask him outright about why he never finished. But what if he told her that he wasn’t attracted enough to her? What if drawing attention to it made him all self-conscious or something? He didn’t seem to care that he never got off, he was always so focused on her. But to Faith, that still felt like failure.
In the minute or so that she was distracted by her thoughts, Faith’s character got killed by a three-headed mutant and she threw the controller to the floor. She’d beaten her own high score seven times but it just wasn’t as fun without Melinda moaning that Faith had ‘cheated’ – which of course, she never did… or the pair dying of laughter as April’s character yet again got stuck in a wall somewhere or accidentally shot itself.
And Joy would’ve loved this game; she could just imagine the little maniac running around with a huge bazooka, blowing the heads off monsters.
Speaking of which.
“How was your search for your long-dead lover and her mangy cat?” Faith called in response to the whoosh and thud sounds she now recognised as Seth misting in.
“Pointless,” he replied after a pause, in a much more cheerful tone than she’d expected.
“Did you go to the farm from your memory?”
“Ah,” he began. “Yes.”
He sat down beside her, looking on the fringes of tense. “The farm has been commandeered as some sort of independent market with a vegan restaurant and a store where all the clothing is made from recycled plastic bottles. Not an inkling of the events of the past. Angeline would have loved it.”
“Would she now,” Faith said through gritted teeth. She wondered if she should also claim to enjoy tofu and itchy clothing like his precious Angeline, but couldn’t bring herself to give enough of a shit. “I didn’t expect you back until dark.”
“That wouldn’t have given you time to prepare.”
“Prepare? Prepare for what? If you think I’m gonna be your housewife and clean up after you or make dinner or whatever, you’re wrong.”
“I don’t give a damn if you allow the place to become a hovel, but dinner might be nice,” he laughed as she rolled her eyes but before she could fire him a witty quip, he spoke again. “I got you a little something, Fledgling.”
“You… you did?” Faith asked quietly, pleasantly surprised, then remembered who she was speaking to. “Ugh. Is it a spleen? Or is it another woman to feed off? Because if it is, you can fuck right off.”
“Not bad guesses, but not quite.” At her unimpressed face, he smiled, took her clenched fist and gently pried open her fingers. She watched sceptically as he placed two tickets into her palm.
“What are these for?” she asked, barely looking down. “Are you taking me to a fossil exhibition or something? Why would I need to ‘prepare’ for… oh my unholy fuck.” Her mouth went dry and all her words escaped her as she registered what the tickets were for. “Oh my god. Oh fucking god. Are these… for… they are! Are they real?!”
“I hope so. They cost three hundred bucks.”
Faith was staring at the small pieces of card in her hand. “It’s tonight.”
“Yes. I’m reliably informed that they don’t usually perform such small, last-minute shows.”
“They don’t,” Faith whispered. “They’ve never even been to this town. And yet they are here. And I have tickets. To an intimate gig. To stand feet away from Blu. Tonight.”
“One night only. I can negotiate a meeting with the band without arousing too much suspicion, should you desire. Of course, it would be wise to drink first.”
“A meeting with the band?” Faith managed, her voice a tiny, strained shadow of its usual self. “I’m going to meet the band? Tonight?”
“Yes, tonight,” Seth said. Faith wasn’t sure if he was reading her mind or her face, but he could tell that his gift had stirred something other than excitement in her. “You don’t want to go. Your tattoo, is it not—?”
“No!” Faith shouted. “I mean – yes! It is. I do! Like, I would give my right arm to go and to meet Blu, but… tonight? I can’t go tonight!”
Seth looked confused, which was probably because by this point, Faith wasn’t making any sense. He glanced at the discarded controller on the floor then slowly back at her, taking in her unwashed, half-dressed body. “Did you have other plans?” he murmured, clearly trying not to lose his shit. “Or are you deliberately trying to inflame me?”
“Neither,” Faith gasped, raking her hand frantically through her hair. “I’m grateful, like really, you have absolutely no idea, but oh my fucking god, Seth. Look at me! I can’t go to a ‘Traitors gig like this!”
“You would probably require a shirt, but—”
“No, I mean, I can’t meet my fucking idol looking like this!” she tugged at her hair. “Blu is perfect, she’s like, the hottest fucking woman on earth and I ripped my extensions out and cut my hair myself with a bloody razor—”
“It’s fine. I last cut mine with a pocket knife,” Seth said dismissively.
“Yeah you can tell,” Faith groaned, rubbing her scalp and causing the coarse hair at her roots to matt under her touch. “Then if that wasn’t bad enough, I bleached it with toilet cleaner because Fringey is a fucking joke and bought the wrong stuff.” She smacked herself on the forehead. “Ugh! Plus, I’ve got one outfit, I’ve been wearing it for days and no, I’m not wearing Megan’s stuff. And then there’s you… look at you! I don’t even know where to start. Fucking hell, this is a disaster! Everything is just a huge disaster!”
Seth was quiet, waiting for Faith to finish her rant, which she eventually did with a whimper. He took her hands, caressing her bare fingers with his gloved ones until all her fight was gone.
“What do you need to me get for you?” he asked softly. “To make you feel good enough to meet Blu, Caustic, Nani and… the other one. Hm. A gap in my knowledge, unfortunate.”
“Floppy Funbags,” Faith said, finishing his list of band members as she silently wondered exactly who he’d siphoned that information from. He began to fill the silence by humming something. She’d never heard him humming before; he was in a really good mood.
And she knew that song he was humming. It was a Kaz Traitors song.
He had to have killed someone for that knowledge. Maybe even for these tickets that were burning a moral hole through her hand. He couldn’t actually be a fan… could he? No, he couldn’t.
“So, what do you need?” he repeated getting to his feet. “I can guarantee that my shopping skills far surpass Caleb’s and you will get exactly what you requested. Couture clothing? A dashing disguise? Would you like me to kidnap a stylist for you? I can theoretically get you anything, if you’re willing to overlook my procurement methods.”
“…Anything?” she repeated, still hung up. She could just ask him how he’d gained that knowledge, but asking meant that he’d answer, and he’d answer honestly. Could her conscience deal with that?
Her conscience. It always sounded like Melinda.
“He’s gonna try and kill someone, Faith! Doesn’t that bother you at all!?”
Does it bother me?
Or did she?
April plonked herself on the bed next to Melinda and smiled broadly at her friend. An expression Melinda tried, but failed, to reciprocate.
“I knew it,” the blonde enthused, clapping her hands and swinging her feet. “I knew that I was adopted!”
Melinda chewed her lip. She was very used to April’s quirky little bursts of inappropriate glee by now and she kept telling herself that April didn’t mean anything by it. But Melinda’s head was spinning. How was April not as overwhelmed as she was? Hearing her gush so happily about finding out that her life was a lie, that everything she knew was a cover up, that her real dad hadn’t wanted her… Melinda clenched her fists, then immediately forced herself to relax.
She reminded herself, in her dad’s warm and gentle voice, that when the details are overwhelming, Mellybean, start by looking at the bigger picture.
Bigger picture: I’m probably going crazy.
Why am I talking to myself?
Ugh! If only I could think straight through this… this… anger! Why am I so angry?
Caleb? No, he was all but shackled now. And she wasn’t angry at April. She wasn’t even angry at Wyatt, especially when Sage explained that the more powerful a witch is, the slower they will age. It meant that Wyatt, who was supercharged, was actually only in his very early twenties in equivalent human years and pretty immature at that. She was willing to give him a chance, though. He seemed like a nice enough guy.
It was not April’s fault that despite never seeking it, April’s whole ancestry had simply fallen into her lap. Melinda had searched so hard for clues about her own birth parents and carried around the stigma of being the abandoned girl, the orphan girl, her whole life. To hear April singing that she was adopted – it stung like a slap. But why, unless…
Shoot. It was spite.
“You weren’t adopted, April,” she said quietly, as patiently as she could manage. “You were raised by your actual mother—“
“But Wyatt is my father!” April beamed, missing the hint. “My father is a witch, Mel! My new grandma can make houses disappear and new clothes from old ones. She can make hair grow back! And Broof! Oh my goodness! Broof was undercover all along!”
Yeah, he was, Melinda thought bitterly, hating her reaction again. Was it the vampirism or was she always such a monster?
“I wonder what magic I’ll be able to do when I’m cured. I already know I can do hair magic.”
“Yes. When I was very little, I had mousy brown hair and I wished really hard to have blonde hair like Mother. I remember sitting on the floor, running my fingers through my hair and wishing for it to turn blonde and the next day I woke up and it had gone blonde overnight!”
Melinda blinked as, yet again, her brain was forced to listen to more impossible scenarios. “You did? Overnight? All of it?”
“It was patchy at first; it had only changed where my fingers had been. Mother was so very cross. I’d never seen her so cross, Mel! She shaved it all off and then she accused Father – I mean, Travis – of bleaching it to spite her. But he hadn’t, Mel. It just changed. When it grew back, it grew back super-fast and it was all blonde. It was even more blonde than before!”
“I… I’m not sure that’s magic,” Melinda argued, if only to justify something logically to herself. “I mean, that can just happen, right? Hair can change colour as you grow up. Hair grows.”
April pouted. Melinda watched her shoulders drop and instantly felt rotten. She backtracked swiftly. “I don’t want to be such a downer, I really don’t, I’m sorry.” She fiddled with the bedsheet, trying to structure a sentence that was both reassuring and yet truthful. “I really hope that this is all real, and that there’s a way we can be cured and that you have amazing magical powers, April.” She paused, smiled through the absolute heartbreak she was suddenly feeling. “And, most importantly, I hope that you do finally have family who actually want you and will love you the way you deserve. Honestly, I wish it more than anything, April; you deserve to be loved.”
April didn’t say anything but she no longer looked like she wanted to burst into tears, so Melinda continued to slowly pull off the sticking plaster. “I just think we need to be a little careful. Putting blind trust in people we don’t know, especially when they are a…” what was the right word here? “sub-species that we don’t fully understand. Well, it hasn’t really gone so well so far, has it?”
“They wouldn’t lie to us. They’re family.”
Melinda didn’t want to point out how illogical this was, especially coming from April. She shifted her weight on the bed and tried not to look outwardly frustrated. “They might not be lying, as such, but more… hiding things, guarding things. Broof said the vampires and witches have a bitter history, right? And Lilith is really wary around Sage.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Lilith made me promise not to talk to Sage about Seth. That he used to be part of a group who killed a load of witches and if she thought we were associating with the likes of him, she wouldn’t be able to help us.”
April thought for a moment then her eyes shot wide open with the realisation. “So they wouldn’t help Faith, then?”
“Shh,” Melinda hissed. “No. Probably not if they thought she was signed up to his methods. And she probably is, isn’t she?” Melinda sighed. “I thought about just blurting it out, that Sage might find her and bring her back but then… if Seth felt threatened or cornered, if he knew he was being hunted, what would he do? If he can kill people for fun, do you think he’d hesitate to hurt Faith? Oh my gosh, what if used her as a shield or something?”
April was trying so hard to speak that her cheeks were puffed up and she looked to be in pain. Melinda studied her for a second, wondering what on earth was happening, and then she realised.
“Caleb told you not to talk about Seth, didn’t he? Ugh! He’s such a butthead! He could’ve just explained the reasons why we need to be careful about what we say, rather than bossing you about! This is all such a mess. I really hope they can cure us soon, so you can get away from that… that knob.”
“I don’t want to,” April said quietly.
“What?” Melinda asked. “You don’t want to be cured?”
“I do want to be cured but I… I don’t want to get away from Caleb. I’m really glad he’s back. When he’s not around I feel funny. Empty.”
“Empty,” Melinda repeated, understanding this feeling completely.
“Yes,” April confessed quietly. “Is that because I’m his puppet, do you think? Do I need his hand up me in order to be animated?” She fiddled with her skirt as Melinda wondered how to heck to form a reply to that. “Or is this what love feels like? Do I actually just love him?”
“I don’t know, April,” Melinda managed after a long pause, the words sounding forced. “Only you know that.”
“Do you think Caleb loves me?”
He loves parts of you.
He looks at you like you’re meat.
He left you dying on a bed and went to a party.
You need him to survive. And I need you to survive.
“Who wouldn’t love you, April?”