How did this whole thing get worse each time?
Wyatt had suffered this presentation multiple times over the years; every time his mum got a whiff of him having any interest in anyone or hearing through the grapevine that he’d got himself a new squeeze, out came The Chart. He could reel off, verbatim, every single page and most of his mum’s butt-clenchingly embarrassing stories.
But sodding heck, this was a million times worse than any other time, ever. His mum just would not stop talking. Going off on tangents. Reminiscing. Asking questions no one wanted to answer. It was like she was trying to make the ground open up and swallow them all.
Wyatt’s cheeks were burning hotter than the underworld. He was amazed he hadn’t ignited the coffee table.
Sage had run the full gamut of her topics and was -finally- almost at the end of her flipchart. The ‘grand finale’ in all the painful ways possible.
Wyatt had turned off somewhere between neck kissing and erotic massage – a first time for everything – and was abruptly brought back to the room by his mum enacting an explosion.
April, the only occupant of the room who didn’t appear to be dying of embarrassment and who was hooked on every word, mimicked the explosion sound and said incredulously, “Millions of them? And you only need one? What happens to the others? How do you stop them?”
Wyatt went back to his happy place as Sage began stomping around, doing her impression of an aggrieved sperm cell banging its head against the inside of a condom.
He allowed his mind to wander to fantasy.
He imagined standing from the sofa, waving his overcharged hand and burning the board to ash.
He imagined the look of horror on his mum’s face and the cheers that would no doubt erupt from his squirming buddies.
Nah, that was overkill. Besides, knowing his luck he’d probably burn the house down, get his casting rights revoked and she’d make a new flip chart with a hundred extra pages to endure next time.
He could do it, if only for April; she had clearly learned a lot. He wasn’t sure Caleb had learned a lot but during the roleplay section Sage had insisted on – which was mortifying – he had at least tried. He knew what he was doing wrong, retrospectively, even if he didn’t know why or how to fix it.
Wyatt felt pretty bad for the dude but in this case, ‘trying’ wasn’t really good enough. There was no way Sage was gonna allow him to be alone with April.
Wyatt had almost zoned out enough to forget where he was, but became aware that Sage was still talking and, worse, gesturing with sound effects. What the hell was she doing now?
Nope. Nope, nope, nope. He was literally gonna die.
One more page. Just one more page. As long as no one asked any questions, he would soon be hiding in the safety of his room, brewing up something to wash his brain with.
“And that concludes tonight’s lesson! Any questions?”
April appeared to have reached her information fill level and remained mute but beside Wyatt, Melinda, who had been silent since page thirty-five, perked up. Wyatt almost wrestled her to the floor in his haste to silence her.
“Mel,” he hissed between gritted teeth. “I’ll give you ten simoleons and tell you anything you wanna know if you don’t ask her any questions.”
“Deal,” Melinda whispered without hesitation.
“No one has any questions, Mum. We all now know everything and will go back to our chaste lives, keeping our bodily fluids to ourselves… bar the occasional blood sucking, obvs.”
“Very well then,” Sage said smoothly, closing her flipchart. “We shall call it a night. But if anyone does have any questions whatsoever, you know where to find me!”
After the sun had fully set, Faith set off to prowl the city streets. Unlike the previous night, the darkness didn’t feel like home, it didn’t feel endless and free and overflowing with opportunity, it only felt threatening and lonely.
She had been flitting all day between rage and worry, waiting for the moment when Seth appeared and laughed at her for pining for him. She’d played out a number of scenarios in her head, things she’d say if he came back, what she’d do if he didn’t. She couldn’t stay in the apartment forever – eventually someone was going to notice the original owner was missing and come and look for him. Where else would she go? What else would she do?
She couldn’t go home, not now, even though she ached in her bones to hold her little sister again. Maybe she could swing by the house and peek through the window or intercept Joy on her way home from school. Like some sort of creep.
Joy was going to be eight soon. Faith would go see her on her birthday even if it killed her. But not now. Now she had to find her footing, again.
What if Seth really had left her? She wouldn’t really blame him – no bloke had ever stuck around this long before, she already felt like she was on borrowed time but… fuck. It hurt.
Faith had no idea where to start looking for Seth. She sort of knew the city by its bars and shadows, mainly, but knew that he wouldn’t hang out in the city if he didn’t have to. He’d have gone out of the concrete jungle and made his way into the surrounding forests and there was no way she was wandering the woods all night, filled as they were with bugs and bugger knows what else.
She could find a bar, blag a few drinks, by herself. Go dancing, by herself. Wander aimlessly… by herself.
Could she go back to the cottage and try and patch things up with Melinda? Did she want to? Faith had always thought it; Mellybean deserved a better friend.
Damn it all. When April had turned up at the cinema that night and offered Faith her wildest dream, she’d never thought she’d end up alone, wandering the streets in a near frantic state, pretending she wasn’t looking for any sign of her mind-fucked vampire lover—
Something white interrupted Faith’s circling thoughts when it darted out from behind a bin and scared the living shit out of her.
But unlike most cats she’d encountered in her time, this one did not carry on running, it didn’t ignore her and head back to wherever it came from. It blocked her path and stared at her, meowing softly.
Faith was not much of an animal lover. Animals were either shedding, stinky, slimy or a combination of all three. They couldn’t hold conversations, they didn’t laugh at jokes, they were all pointless, really.
The cat continued to stare at her, to meow at her insistently. Maybe it knew her? Something about it was kind of familiar, she thought scanning through her memories, quickly realising it wasn’t her own memories she needed to scan.
Shit, it was weird remembering the memories Seth dumped on her – in her? – when he had his little meltdown. It was kind of like it didn’t fit in her head, like a hat that was too small, but worn on the inside of her head. That made no fucking sense, but Faith couldn’t explain it any better than that.
She wondered if that’s how Seth saw his prey’s memories, too.
OK, so that’s where she’s seen a cat before. White, fluffy, big green eyes. It was just coincidence but this cat that was giving her the evil eye looked identical.
Although, white cats weren’t uncommon, not in these parts. Some white tom – possibly even this one, he was clearly fearless – had obviously been having a lot of fun with the females of the town. The Fringey of cats, she laughed to herself.
She ignored the thing, turned around to pursue an unblocked path and found herself tripping up over the little shit who had bolted between her legs and was weaving around them, his meowing persistent.
Faith watched in horror as the thing deposited a thousand white cat hairs on her jeans. She hoped he didn’t have fleas. Would fleas bite her now? Probably not, but she didn’t want to risk it. She briefly considered booting the thing into the sky, but it was still pretty early, there were people milling about and in a weird way, it was sort of cute.
The cat had fallen silent, its warm body against her leg, rubbing his face against her calf, purring and never breaking eye contact. Faith felt a pull as she looked at it, a lure…
No, that was ridiculous. It’s just a cat.
Faith nudged it away with her free foot, probably a little too hard, repeating her instruction to shoo. The thing hissed at her and ran off a short way and Faith, relieved that it had gotten the message, watched it go, only to see it stop a few feet away to look back at her. Or rather, it seemed to Faith, to glare at her. Almost to goad her. She could almost hear it singing in her head; I know something you don’t know.
It was insane but what if… what if this cat did know something? What if it was actually trying to lead her somewhere? What if Seth was right and this thing was following him?
Maybe it was a gut feeling or maybe it was because she had nothing better to do, but Faith heaved a huge sigh and started to follow.
Forty minutes later, the cat had run through alleyways and back streets, eventually coming out onto a track that led away from the city and into the wilderness.
This was insane. This cat was probably gonna make Faith lost and then kill her. Maybe it had some sort of big cat complex and they’d find her mangled corpse knotted in a ball and left on someone’s doorstep.
The cat had run on ahead, down a trail that was thick with mud and horse shit, and Faith decided that enough was enough.
She pivoted on her heel to turn back, before she reached the point of no return and again, her attention was caught by something on the ground.
Faith was never one for picking up litter, but this… she recognised this…
It had been soaked through by the earlier rain showers but there was absolutely no doubt about it. It was a ticket stub for the Kaz Traitors gig.
Faith still clung to this all being coincidence but was quickly losing her grip. There were only a handful of people at that gig. What are the odds that another one of them had walked all the way out here?
Faith had never run so fast in her life. She pursued the cat as it bounded effortlessly through a barely trodden trail while she stumbled along behind it. She was so relieved that she hadn’t worn her ridiculous heels and had put a bra on, but these jeans were so not made for running.
The path eventually reached what looked like a selection of independent shops in the middle of nowhere. Faith followed the cat through a pair of heavily-hung gates into a place that she immediately recognised, despite its modern-day makeover.
Of course he’d come here, she thought with resentment. Half of her wanted to turn around and storm off down the path, go back to cottage and make amends with Melinda and just forget the bastard. But the other half?
The other half knew that something was wrong.
Seth was lying on the floor and he looked like he’d been there a while. At first she thought he was dead, well, more dead, but on closer inspection, she realised that the heavy compression that surrounded her when she was near him still lingered. She took that as a sign that he was still there.
The cat had settled quietly behind her, observing.
“You bought me here and you’re not going to help?” she joked, but it gave absolutely no response, no acknowledgement that she had even spoken.
Faith didn’t know what to do. What could’ve floored him like that and was it still a danger? She nudged Seth in the side with the toe of her boot, but he didn’t flinch.
“Wake up, asshole,” she whispered, thinking a good insult might rouse him.
Hm. She wondered if she could move him. Dropping to her knees, she managed to get enough leverage to heft him into a sitting position. Fuck, he was heavy, even without pockets full of rocks and knives. She managed to get him as far as the wall and semi-upright before her arms gave out.
“Seth! Wake up!” she tried again, with the same response as before.
There was only one other thing she could think to do.
Well, it worked last time and seemed to do the trick again. As the sound of her palm contacting his cheek echoed around the small alleyway, Seth’s eyes blinked open and for the first time, she realised that he was in dark form.
Those glowing eyes of his caught her off-guard and for moment all words escaped her. Even in dark form he was absolutely gorgeous and added to that the fact that he looked so wounded, so fragile…
She stroked his face, feeling like she’d been gutted.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Faith?” he murmured, it sounded like so much effort. He craned his head to the sky trying to put pieces together. “It’s dark? What day is it?”
“It’s Monday night. Have you been out here all day?” Faith asked, the guilt of not looking for him sooner starting to eat away at her. “What the fuck happened to you?”
“It’s dark,” he whispered.
Faith bit her lip. Was he dying? Was she too late? Fuck, fuck, fuck! “Good job you have a guardian angel, then,” she joked, trying to laugh. “Stay away from the fires of hell, Seth! Come into the light!”
“You’re hardly an angel,” he murmured.
Shit. Did he know? Could he tell? She’d washed and changed – surely she didn’t smell of Caustic now? But what was that he’d said to her before?
“Come now, Violet. I’m a prime apex predator and you four are hardly skilled at covering your tracks.”
He reached his hand up, his eyes trying to focus on her face. For a moment she thought he was going to hit her, but his touch was gentle where it landed. “You’re not a nightmare, Faith,” he said quietly. “It was a joke in poor taste.”
“Ha fucking ha,” She shoved his hand away. She couldn’t deal with that right then; softness. “A joke. I thought you’d left me.”
“By no will would I have left you alone with that pink-haired predator. I could barely read his thoughts, but I could feel his intentions.” He groaned, pressing his gloved fingertips firmly into his forehead. “Holy damn, my head.”
“How much did you drink?”
“Barely anything. Perhaps my age is showing.”
“Perhaps,” Faith thought, a more sinister scenario crossing her mind.
He grabbed her wrist and tried to focus on her again. The laboured tone of his voice did nothing to dampen the force of his words. “Know that if he laid a single finger on you, I’ll hunt him down and gut him, fame be damned.”
Fucking bollocking shit. If Faith had breath, she’d likely be hyperventilating by now. “He didn’t,” she murmured, lying like a pro. “I- I can look after myself.”
“I don’t doubt it.” He nodded, relieved and stroked her hand against the roughness of his face as he laughed. “Twice in one week you have come to my aid. I’m becoming quite the ‘damsel in distress’,” he joked. “Who’d have thought I’d have a saviour and that it’d be you?”
She fought back tears remembering the disappointing fuck she was having while Seth was probably wandering around, possibly drugged, or passed out at the mercy of the sun. She pulled him into an embrace, so he couldn’t see her face.
“How did you find me?” he asked.
“I didn’t,” she admitted, allowing him to rock her in his arms. She inclined her head towards the cat. “He did.”
“Oh?” Seth followed the direction of her nod and in an instant his whole body seized up.
He threw Faith off as he crawled back in fear, stammering as he went, “It’s that one! It’s that cat! It’s following me, I know it!”
“It’s just a cat who seems to like you—”
He ignored her. “No cat can live 300 years.”
“Not this shit again. It’s a different cat. There’s more than one cat in the world, Seth,” Faith pointed out as she approached her fluffy new companion. He jumped up at her attention.
“You’re just a stupid cat, aren’t you?” she cooed, tickling its chin as it pushed its head into her hand. “Yes you are! Just a dumb ball of floof who follows my man around.”
Was that her weird blast power again? Maybe it was a way of dispelling creatures she hated – first Lilith, now cats. Or perhaps it was just static built up from running in man-made fibres. Whatever it was, the cat appeared unhurt but scarpered like its arse was on fire, ignoring Faith’s calls.
She returned to Seth, who was looking far more relaxed with the cat gone, and helped him to his feet.
“See?” she said. “Just a cat. It’s fine.”
Everything is fine.
Sage’s flipchart can be downloaded from here.