Adoration. Obsession. Beautiful self-destruction


Trapdoor: a novel by Vixen Phillips


The Sixth Degree of Separation

I’m lying on my back beneath the old, familiar ceiling of white and shadow, and I’m alone. Which should come as no surprise. The more I recall about last night, the more I feel my tentative hold on sanity slip. The knuckles on both my hands are burning.

I sit up in bed, and my mind blurs in and out of focus. Of course I’m alone. What reason do I give him, to stay?

I dig my toes into the carpet as I get to my feet. An icy wind slices through the curtains and rakes its fingernails over my naked body. Down the hall, a tap drips. A clock on the wall tick-tick-ticks. I thought I heard an alarm go off earlier, but I’d simply rolled over and drifted back to sleep, incapable of facing any reality so soon. This reality.

For the house is entirely empty. Nobody here at all. Least of all myself.

I rub at my forehead and go on glancing around the room. The breeze at the open window gets into my chest, closing around my heart, and I let it. Everything gets easier, when I don’t need to feel. What’s the point in getting up?

But there’s no sanctuary for me in this bed, not with a single strand of purple hair coiled across the pillow and my blood gone cold on the sheets. Did I hurt you, Peg? Is this what form my love for you takes? I don’t understand anything, except I want you till all the stars burn out, but I don’t even know what you feel.

Well, you do now. He couldn’t have made it more obvious.

My knees start to tremble, so I sink to the mattress. For the first time, I’ve got absolutely no idea what comes next. There’s always been somewhere else for me to run to—someone else—and now—

Tick. Tock (drip) Tick. Tock (drip.) Tick. Tock (drip).

A metronome to keep time with my madness, missing only the razor’s beat. I seek for its cruel salvation on the bedside table, but the blade’s gone, replaced by a sliver of white. A letter. For me.

Holding my breath, I reach out a tentative hand, then snatch it to my chest, fearing the paper might vanish the minute it realises I’ve become aware of its existence. I breathe in a sob and exhale his name, as I hold it up to what little light filters through the curtains. Might as well get it over with.

Yeah, that’s his handwriting—delicate, like calligraphy. Even where some of the words are scratched out, this is a far too exquisite means to convey the final description of my doom.

My Raven,

By the time you read this, I’ll be gone. I’m sorry I couldn’t make you happy last night. Sorry I got you into all this…trouble. I wish you could forgive me, that I might forgive myself…and I thought…

If you still want…me…I’ll be at work until seven. You could meet me there, perhaps? If you don’t come, I’ll understand.

But I’ll wait for you. Forever and always.

The letter’s signed with a single x. A kiss. A smile skitters across my lips, but I wipe it off before relief gets the chance to swell to hysterics. We’re a pair of fools, me and you both.

I stare at the clock, registering what it says for the first time. Four-thirty, in the afternoon. A perfectly civil hour to be waking up. And that leaves me nearly three hours.

I glance once at the bloody sheets, then make my way into the bathroom. While the water from the shower quenches my scars and pounds my bruises, an image drifts into my mind, stealing my breath. Veiled in tears, he’s lapping at my chest, my blood staining his tongue and lips. The razor blade flashes as he slides it down the arc of my throat, his touch so warm, the pain so exquisite. And he opens his mouth and says, We’re not going to lose him, are we?

I turn off the water and hold myself close. Too many things to remember. Just once, I’d like to forget.

I get off the tram along Chapel Street. One hand grips the letter; the other’s at my neck, reaching for the cross—his first gift to me. Back then, I mocked him for his faith. Now it’s the last light in a vast, dark sea. What else could keep you next to me, Peggy? What else could make me want you to bind my soul with thorns, though I know all too well what power you hold, to destroy me, to take from me everything I define as my self, my life, my reason?

Only a few blocks to go, and I can already sense his presence, calming me, soothing me—just like that night I reached out to brush the ice-blond hair aside, and he held out my new-born son—

No. That was only nightmare, vision, dream. Another thing I don’t understand, another thing that scares the hell out of me. Should I tell him about it, ask him what it means?

As if he’s not scared enough of you already. I hardly need to go around advertising the true nature of my insanity.

I’m waiting for a car at the last intersection, when three figures turn the corner and head my way: man, woman, child. I take my foot off the road and step back, watching them get closer and closer, till the shop lights reveal their faces. An older man in a suit; yuppie, by the looks of it. Wendy. Damien…

She sees me first, and freezes mid-stride. With a flick of her hair, her features twist themselves into a mask of hate. Then Damien screams out, “Daddy!”, and the suit herds them into the nearest restaurant.

I draw in a deep breath, fingers twitching. So, Wendy. Now it’s your turn to play happy families? And you think he wants that from you? Do you think he cares about Damien, thinks he’s cute, wants to marry you and make a ‘decent woman’ of you? Are you thinking at all? Really, you almost had me fooled. I always thought I was the bigger idiot in our unfortunate relationship.

Whatever. In the end, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to cross the road—just act like nothing happened, show them nothing; you’re a boy, a man, you can at least do that, can’t you?

Bang! A door slams, and footsteps pound the pavement straight for me. Next thing I know, I’ve dropped to my knees, and Damien’s hugging me tight. His tears tickle my neck as I press my face into his hair. I never want to let go.

“Daddy,” he sobs again, staring into my face. He looks so sad and so grown up. So much like me. “Mama says you don’t want me. Mama says I’m bad so you don’t love me anymore.”

Don’t know what I’m saying; anything that drifts into my mind will do. How much I do love him. How much his Peggy-sis loves him. How I’m going to take them both away from all of this real soon, somewhere— Somewhere we can be safe. And happy.

Somewhere she can’t blame him for my mistakes.

“Come on now, don’t let’s be stupid.” A lazy male voice—Wendy’s companion. Jonathan? I glance up, shifting around to shield my son. But there’s no sign of the queen bitch herself. Only her joker. “You know the situation. You wouldn’t want to get in any trouble, would you? Not with the court case coming up. Remember?”

How much did she tell this ponce? But Damien’s grip tightens around my neck. He’s whimpering in my ear, and trembling. Why is he so fucking scared—of you?

I sneer at the piece of shit in a suit till he backs off, fishing in his pockets for…a gun, mace, a hand grenade?

A mobile phone. Of course. The ultimate in high-class wanker defence systems. “Put the kid down, or I call the cops, okay?”

I raise a brow. Oh yeah? You think you can hold me to ransom? You think I give a shit? Go ahead, call the fucking cops. The more the merrier. Tell ‘em after I ram your head up your arse, I’ll shout them all a round of fucking donuts.

But a little hand brushes against mine, a reminder to keep my mouth shut. It’s true: he can hold me to ransom. I’m just a puppet, with too many cut strings.

Damien starts to wail as I put him down reluctantly. Prying off his fingers one by one feels as bad as if I’m breaking them. I sicken myself. You sicken me, Wendy. “Daddy! Don’t you want me, Daddy?” he screams in my face, hugging himself till his whole body stiffens. I shove my hands deep in my pockets, otherwise—fuck it all to hell and back—I’m going to kill this bastard lapdog of hers. Then storm into that restaurant and make an entree out of her innards. Instead, I hate myself for looking away as the sleazebag snatches my son out of reach.

“You think you’ve got a chance?” I spit. “He’s my son. He’ll always be my son.”

The suit just laughs, lugging my little angel under one arm as though he’s a slab of beer, not a precious life. Not my entire fucking universe. “Hell, I don’t give a shit about the rugrat. I only want to screw her.”

With that, he tosses his scarf and retreats to where that bitch is holed up. Damien keeps his eyes fixed on me, till the door slams closed. I spin round and kick a garbage can out onto the street. Its guts spew across the road, straight at an oncoming car. The driver swerves out of the way, blaring his horn in a stream of protest. I pick up the stray lid and hurl it after him, stumbling into the gutter on my follow-through. All my energy drained, I put my head in my hands, laughing or crying I don’t know which, except that no tears ever come.

It’s five minutes to seven when I push open the door of Lenny’s Instruments, ignoring the ‘get a life, we’re f***ing closed!!!’ sign hanging in the window. As I step inside, I gape at the rows of guitars, but only out of habit. Soulless copies, most of them.

“Heya blackbird!” Lenny calls from the rear end of the shop, holding up a half-rolled joint. “You musta been able to smell me! Lock that door, will ya? Don’t want no more strays like you blowing in.”

I manage a nod, flick the latch, then wander towards him. He slaps me hard on the shoulder, then goes on sealing and lighting the joint. I make myself at home by shrugging my coat onto the floor and fixing a cup of coffee. “So,” he says, past a cloud of smoke. “How’s tricks?”

I stir two sugars into the tepid black liquid, forcing myself to concentrate on each little action. I’m not the only one. Blue eyes watch my every move from beneath scraggly burgundy tufts—despite the fact he seems to breathe marijuana, Lenny always looks so alert. No doubt pot’s got the same effect on him as alcohol does on me. “Oh,” I say, playing it down, “to quote Saint Nick, you could say I’ve been contemplating suicide.”

“Well, so long as you remember how it actually goes.” He sings the rest of the line in a low, soulful voice. Then, with a smile that could be knowing or pitying, he passes over the joint. “It doesn’t suit your style, blackbird.”

I shrug and suck back a deep toke, feeling the smoke burn down my lungs. Straight away, a not unpleasant haze drifts across my mind. Damn, he always knows how to get hold of the good stuff.

“Speaking of style,” he adds, turning away as I try to pass on the joint, leaving me to take another drag instead, “check out what came in today.” He turns back, cradling a guitar in his arms. But not just any guitar. A black and white Fender Telecaster, in mint condition. We trade—the joint for the guitar. I lift it out of his arms and do the customary check of the insignia on the head. No soulless copy here. “Original?”

“You betcha.” Lenny grins. “Don’t get any of that cheap Mexican crap in here.” He pretends to look hurt as he adds, “You know me better than that, blackbird.”

Sure I do. I pull up a milk crate and turn the guitar over, then place it in my lap. “How much?”

He gags on a mouthful of smoke. And when he’s done coughing, he’s still laughing. Yeah, thanks. “Much more than you could ever afford, my friend. Better for you to hope that kid of yours grows up and becomes a lawyer, or investment banker, or something. Then he can buy it for you.” He giggles, spooning three sugars into his own coffee.

“No, then I really would kill myself, style or no.” My left hand’s already forming random chord patterns on the neck, testing the tension of the strings, admiring the smooth polish of the maple fretboard beneath my fingertips. “Am I at least allowed to play it?”

“What, you think I’m an arsehole?” He tosses me a lead, then plugs the other end into an amp that barricades the nearest door. After fishing through his pockets, he hands over a plectrum. Taking in a deep breath, all the better to savour the moment, I strum a chord: my favourite, E minor 7. The rich bass resonates through the floorboards, and vibrates up into my toes. I grin at Lenny, who nods approvingly. Just to piss him off, I rip out a few bars of ‘Stairway to Heaven’, stopping only to laugh when he charges forward, intent on reclaiming my temporary prize.

“Don’t give me the fucking shits,” he whines, settling down into his corner. “You know how many fucking thirteen-year-olds I get in here, reeking of pubescence? You know what they say to me? ‘Can you teach me to play that song?’ I hate that fucking song. Play that again and you’re banned for the next six months. Consider yourself warned.”

I hold up my hands in surrender. But he’s stuck on his anti-Led Zeppelin fixation. “Twenty years of playing guitar, and all these little shits wanna learn is Stairway to fucking Heaven and Nirvana songs. Well I’m sure as shit Kurt Cobain never went to heaven, I can tell you that for free. Hendrix, or Velvet Underground, or Jeff Buckley? No, just goddamn Triple J try-hard classics. Makes me sick.”

I sigh. “You done there, old-timer?” Thinking back to our guitar lessons, a bit of ‘Purple Haze’ should at least shut him up.

Well, I’m half right. Except for the fact that as I hit the second bar, he starts to bounce around the already cramped space, crooning the lyrics in what approaches a decent Elvis impersonation. I stop playing and glare at him.

“What?” he demands innocently, using my silence as an excuse to take the guitar off me. He idly strums a few chords before unplugging it and closing it up in its coffin.

“Hendrix’d be tossing in his grave right now, I reckon.” I down the rest of my coffee, and dump the cup on the sink.

“Yeah? Well that shows how much you know.” His shoulders stiffen. I must’ve hit a nerve. “Everyone knows the soul leaves the body when it dies. Unless you’re an atheist, but those nihilist bastards are all fucked up. Energy never dies, just changes form. Remember? Or were you always too hung over in high school to pay attention to Physics 101?”

Ouch. I crack my knuckles and check my watch again. Don’t want to be here. “When’s Peg done?” I just want to take my angel home with me, lock the door, and throw away the key. Keep all these clowns out of our world, at least till we’ve designed some plan to get my son.

It’s ten minutes after seven.

“Ah, any minute, I guess.” Lenny shrugs, grinding the joint into the carpet with a shiny boot. The sparks have only just gone out when he quickly grabs hold of me, and draws the curtain across the doorway. A silhouette glides past us. Growling, “Wait here, don’t move!” in my ear, he steps out into the showroom.

I frown, not in the mood for his little games. Even less so when I hear Pegasus ask, “Has Raven come yet, Lenny?”

“No, no, no,” Lenny’s quick to respond, and a flash of hatred bursts inside my forehead. “I’m just having a smoke out back. Care to join me?”

I miss the answer, but I know he won’t be saying yes. Only I can get him to do that, arsehole. I’m on the verge of storming out of my hidey-hole when Lenny reappears and pushes me towards the dark side of the room, a finger pressed to his lips. I glare him down, till with an impatient sigh he beckons me over and tugs on my hair so we’re both staring out across the shop through a gap in the curtain. Now Pegasus approaches the grand piano in the centre of the floor, takes up a seat in front of the keyboard, and stretches high. Then he slumps forward, and begins to play.

Wait. I know this song…

“The last time he caught me doing this,” Lenny whispers in my ear, annoying me with his constant proximity, ”he didn’t speak to me for two whole weeks, let alone come out and play. He’s a shy one, isn’t he? Hiding his light under a bushel, you might say.”

He grins, but I’m no longer paying attention to him. My eyes are all for Pegasus, and in my mind I’m caressing his black velvet shirt, unbuttoning the burgundy jeans, letting his silken hair flow freely over his shoulders, over my naked skin, pulling the shirt over his head, kissing his chest, his nipples, moving lower across his stomach, down to—

I just manage to stop myself choking on desire, painfully aware of my growing hard-on. If you could only want me half as bad as this.

Ignoring Lenny’s hisses of protest, I step out behind the curtain and move towards the piano, a moth drawn to a flame. To hell with whether my wings get burned. I am not afraid.

As I come nearer he stops playing and turns around, hands folded contentedly in his lap. “Where did you materialise from?” he asks, a mysterious smile on his lips. I grab him by the wrists and pull him into a deep kiss. He doesn’t fight me, doesn’t even tense beneath my touch.

“The seventh layer of hell,” I answer, hugging him as tight as I held my son, before—

Not here. I can’t do any of this here.

“Let’s go home.” It doesn’t take any more saying. He nods.

We wave goodnight to a bemused Lenny. I don my overcoat, and drape Peg’s coat and scarf around his shoulders. Together, we step out to face the cruel night.

“So, what will I cook?” he asks, as we head towards his apartment, arm in arm.

This simple question throws me. “What?”

He slaps me, grinning playfully. “You like hot food, right? I think I have chillies, and capsicum, and rice—Hmm.” He drifts off, distracted by the gaudy window display of the Retro Chique Boutique. I drag him right, down another street, then cut across the lane.

“You don’t need to cook for me.”

“Don’t be silly.” He frowns. “You didn’t have to come and meet me, either.”

He begins to speed up, so I pull him back into my arms. “Yeah, I did,” I whisper, drawing him into another kiss.

He makes a half-hearted attempt at breaking my hold. “If this is how you feel about things,” he starts to say.

No, Pegasus. “I can’t bear the thought of being without you.” This is how I feel. I cover his lips and tongue with more little kisses, and lead him on towards home.

Home. Such a strange word. I don’t have a home. You don’t have a home, not really. But when I’m with you, I feel home.

We reach the apartment, and I let go his hand so he can fish through a pocket for his keys. Like two excited kids, we race one another up three flights of stairs and stumble onto the top landing, panting and laughing. I’ve never been inside his little loft before. As the door swings open, I kiss him more sombrely, wanting to mark the occasion. After tossing aside his coat and scarf, he shoves me inside, shuts the door, and snips the latch.

Turning around, he notices my grin. “I just didn’t want you going anywhere.”

“I haven’t got anywhere else.” Hastily, I add, ”There’s nowhere else I’d want to be.”

He looks at me a moment longer, before a slow smile crosses his face and he waves in the direction of the bed. “Um…I kind of don’t have anywhere to sit, so—”

My grin broadens. “Now that’s just asking for trouble.” I fall onto the mattress, about to make a start on removing my own coat, when together we notice the flashing red light, coming from a coffee table crowded with random appliances. This one’s an answering machine. He frowns, but presses the switch to play the message. He’s got nothing to hide from me.

“Uh, Peg?” I jump as a loud, familiar voice cuts through the tinny speakers. “It’s Monty. I guess you’re at work. Um, I don’t suppose you’ve seen Raven? Probably off somewhere getting pissed.” Pegasus shoots me a knowing look. I poke out my tongue. “If you do see him,” Monty’s voice continues, sounding more uncertain than usual, “could you tell him to swing round to my place ASAP? It’s really important. Yeah, thanks. Oh, and don’t forget the gig tomorrow!” The voice drops out with a crunch, replaced by the beep-beep-beep of the engaged signal.

Pegasus sighs and switches off the machine. “Sounds like dinner might have to wait.”

Damn you, Monty. I run my hands through my hair. You don’t want any chance of me being happy, is that it? “I’m not going.”

Footsteps cross the floor, and he wraps me in his arms, his breath warm on my neck. I already know what he’s going to say. “You have to, Raven. He said it’s important. That probably means it has something to do with Damien.”

My fists clench, involuntarily. “What more can they take? I told you, I’m not going. I don’t want to go. I thought you wanted me to stay.”

Pathetic. I should be used to these feelings already. Fear. Desire. Pain. Nothing new. Once upon a time, I would’ve called these feelings my friends. Till they turned around and stabbed me in the back, like all friends do eventually.

He taps me under the chin, and it works to get my attention. “Listen to me,” he says. “This matters. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll call ahead and tell him you’re coming. We’ll have something to eat when you get home. Okay?”

I just shrug, lowering my gaze, playing it silent, martyred, heroic.

He sighs, pulling away. Instantly I miss the warmth and comfort he offered. Don’t you understand? I don’t need to hear them say it. I don’t need to hear them tell me again that they’re taking him away from me. Please don’t make me go.

“Besides,” he says at last, “it might give you a chance to grab the rest of your stuff. You didn’t bring anything with you, Raven.”

I frown, quashing the feelings of hope brought on just by hearing him speak my name, let alone the two sentences that went before it. “What—what do you mean?”

He folds his arms around his chest. He’s expecting to be hurt, same as me. But he’s got no right to ask for that, not like I do. “Well, I thought you might like to stay. Here.”

I reach out, catching him on one cheek before he can dodge me. “You don’t have to,” he says, his gaze dropping to his feet.

My hand finds the cross again, seeking out its reminder. “If you let me stay, then I’ll go.” Gotta love the stupid logic of that sentence.


There’s only one way to answer his question. Sighing heavily, I get off the bed. “Yeah.” I even manage a wink before I pull the door shut behind me.

“Damn you, Monty.” This time the curse isn’t so silent, as I again set foot into the night that doesn’t want to let me go.

Upon my arrival at Monty’s, I’m swept inside by Noriko and dragged before a woman called Judy Mirkle, a creature with all the personality, warmth and flair of my final year English teacher—and I hated her with a passion. “She’ll be looking after you on Tuesday,” Monty announces cheerfully.

So, I’m supposed to be impressed? I glare at him till he makes some weak excuse and dashes off into the kitchen with Noriko. You certainly know when to leave the betting arena, don’t you, cousin?

I barely pay any attention to this Judy Mirkle, but like a good boy I answer all her questions, questions about my ‘lifestyle’, my situation, my relationship with Wendy, my income. No doubt she likes me about as much as I like her. No doubt she’s already made up her mind about me from the way an extra line appears upon her forehead for each extra note she’s gotta take. And I know she doesn’t think I’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell of getting custody of my son.

The only thing she does to earn an ounce of my respect through the entire ordeal comes at the end of our meeting. Turning to me as she makes her way out the door, she says, “I think you should realise the odds are stacked against you here.”

No shit, Sherlock.

“I mean,” she stops to explain, as though it needed explaining, “in ninety-nine percent of cases, the mother always gets the child. No matter how good a parent the father is. Then you throw the word ‘homosexual’ into the mix and—well.” She lets the thought slide. “Just a fact of life, I’m afraid. And our antiquated legal system.”

“So why bother?”

“Ah, well.” She laughs, patting down her hair. “It pays well? What more can I tell ya?” Shaking my hand once, she departs with a light-hearted, “See you next Tuesday.”

Yeah, right. See you in hell, more like. Bitch.

I linger in the doorway, till Monty and Noriko reappear behind me, both of them looking hopeful. “Well?” Monty’s the first to lose his patience. “How’d it go? What did you think? She’s a really good lawyer.”

“She’s all right,” I murmur, hoping my voice conveys the more truthful answer. No, none of this is fucking all right. You gave up too quick, and now you’re palming me off on some cow who doesn’t even know me, much less give two shits about what happens in court, so long as she gets paid.

“Raven, what is it?” Noriko moves in with open arms, all full of big-sisterly concern that makes me want to vomit.

I hold up a hand, keeping her at bay. “I’m going back to Pegasus,” I say, trying to retain my calm. You both betrayed me, and now you don’t get the honour of seeing me break.

“It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?” Monty says.

You’d like it to be, wouldn’t you. “I’m going to get the rest of my stuff.” I force my way past to the spare bedroom, and throw all my clothes into the suitcase. But I can’t find that purple top I gave Peg to wear. He must’ve taken it home with him already.

I close the door behind me, and step into the hall. At the far end, Monty and Noriko haven’t moved, like statues frozen in time. As I head for the exit, he reaches out and grabs me by my free arm. I stare past him, waiting till he lets go. In a weak voice, he says, “You’re going to stay there?”

That’s right. Try and stop me and it’ll be the last thing you ever do. I’m ready to lash out if either of them try to touch me again. I just—I just don’t care anymore.

“Where will you sleep?” he asks. Noriko hastily elbows him in the stomach, hissing as she makes a face. He frowns at her in incomprehension, before finally catching on. “Oh.” They both look down at their toes.

I wrench open the door and stare up at the night sky. “Have a nice life.” Almost there. I think of Pegasus, among the pale stars. Can you hear me? I’m coming home. I’m not leaving you again.

“Hey, don’t forget the gig tomorrow!” Monty calls after me.

“Sure,” I say, slamming the door, locking them out of my life.

Like I’ve even got the key.

Pegasus lets me in warily, though he manages a smile when I dump the suitcase and my coat on the floor. This time I’m the one who locks the door, before I turn and sweep him into an embrace. I carry him to the bed, sit him down on the edge of the mattress. Then I fall forward and bury my face in his neck, nipping at his throat.

“I don’t know how,” he tells me slowly, “but just now I knew you were coming. I was in the kitchen, and suddenly I felt…warm.” He tries to laugh it off, but I remember my silent plea before I left Monty’s. So, you did hear me.

Dropping the smile, he asks, “Do you want to talk?”

“Kept you from your dinner long enough, didn’t I?”

Realising the answer’s no, he nods and shuffles off into the kitchen. Not five minutes later, the most wonderful aromas waft under my nose to tease my stomach, make my mouth water. I find the remote for the corner-mounted TV, then slide off my boots. All the while, restless, I gaze around the room. Most of the walls are covered in psychedelic swirls in red and purple and black, matching the bedding. Probably Noriko’s contribution to the decor. On the bedside table, a Chinese lantern and a picture frame sit side by side, and it’s on this photo that I linger longest. From a distance, it’s Pegasus, but up close the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen undoes layers of skin and bone and spirit with no more than a defiant tilt of her head and the consumptive sadness that stains her proud silver-blue eyes. An elaborate ice-blonde braid sweeps away from elfin features and coils over her shoulder in a rope of liquid frost.

I always thought of me and Ma as pretty close replicas, till I see how much this woman resembles Pegasus, from the inside out. And Damien.

The mattress moves, snapping me out of my trance. He’s kneeling behind me now, wrapping his arms around my chest. For a moment, we stare at the photo together, and then he draws back and sniffs.

“Mother,” he whispers, by way of explanation, as if it weren’t already obvious.

“Juliette.” I hope I get the pronunciation right.

He squeezes my shoulder. “She’s beautiful, yes?”

You’re beautiful.” I return the frame to its rightful place, then pull him onto my lap. The conversation I had with Lenny earlier keeps nagging at the edge of my memory, an echo of something that’s been bothering me ever since he tried to—

“Where do you think she is, now?”

After a long silence, he rises off the bed. Muttering, “I don’t know,” he retreats to the safety of the kitchen.

Liar. Random laughter erupts from the TV, and I switch it off in annoyance. No need for that. I came here to shut out the rest of the world; all its trivial emotions and short-lived genius. I intend to keep it this way—

For so long as I possibly can—

Till Tuesday, at least.

After dinner, I make for the window to partake of a ritual clove cigarette. The pot I scored last night can wait.

I push up the frame, let in the cold winter night, and blow my smoke back in its face. From behind, Peg wraps his arms around my waist. “Did you like it?” he asks, nuzzling into my shoulder blades.

“Yeah.” It might even have been the best meal I’ve ever had, and I’m ashamed for being so distracted. “Thanks.”

With a sigh, he wedges his body between me and the open window. “Will you tell me nothing?”

Maybe I don’t want this cigarette, after all. I butt it out on the ledge, then poke it down into the pack. “I think we need a Plan B.” I try and play it casual, but as I hold him in my arms, my lower lip starts to tremble. Too many shadows, haunting my head.

“Do you think—? Do you think…I’m a good dad, to Damien?”

“Of course,” he murmurs without hesitation, gripping me tighter. “Raven—”

“I’m nothing like my old man, you know.” I gaze over the top of his head, out across the dark side of the city. “Apart from the drinking. Never told you why I had to leave home, did I? Ma—after he died, she got ill. They sent her to a mental institution.” I shrug. “Anyhow…every night, when I was real little, Dad would get in, blind drunk, and beat the crap out of both of us. She never did anything, she never said anything, she just— She let him do it. To her. To me.”

Let’s see if you still want to get close to echoing those three little words by the time I’m done here. “But eventually, I learned to defend myself. So he couldn’t pick on me anymore. He could only pick on her. Sometimes, if I was feeling resentful, if I remembered all the nights I spent alone, praying for Death—” I close my eyes. “Sometimes I let him get away with it. Just to teach her a lesson, for never once protecting me.”

Beneath my lashes, it’s started to sting, but I don’t much care whether Pegasus sees. My true nature is far more ugly. “I’ve never forgotten, not since they sent me to live with Monty. I don’t protect my son from anything. And Monty’s betrayed me. So now…what right do I have to feel anything? I’m no better than my old man.” The realisation kicks me hard in the chest. For a moment I can’t breathe.

Then he sighs, and kisses my eyelids. “Oh, Raven,” he says.

We sit on the bed, and he pulls me against him, and I let my head fall into his lap. “I don’t understand you,” he whispers, stroking my hair, my cheeks, my lips, one long wisp of lilac trailing against my skin, tantalising me through my sorrow. “How can you think you’re this horrible person? You have emotions, intelligence…beauty.”

I laugh bitterly, but he’s not giving up.

“Why else would I be here?”

I shrug. “You just never figured out how you’d be better off with anyone but me. You don’t realise what a horrible person I am, cos—”


All right, then. “Because you love me,” I whisper, reaching up to touch his face.

He smiles down on me, angelic, serene, and presses a finger against my lips. At last he says, “I met so many horrid people, Raven. They killed my mother. They might have killed your mother, in their way. But not me, and not you. And you’re not one of them. Trust me; I know. I’ll never lie to you. Damien needs you. You deserve him. You deserve happiness.”

A different confession. “You make me happy.”

“I hated my mother, too, you know. Only once that I can remember, but I remember it was enough.”

I sit up; our noses press together. His soft velvet shirt tempts my fingers. I fight the urge to pull it off him. “What happened? Tell me.”

He sighs and draws back. “It was the day before she died. My father held me down on the living-room floor. He read something—I think it was meant to be out of the Bible. Then he cut off my hair, from where I’d asked her to braid it. I screamed for her to help me—until he brought out the belt, anyway—but she just stood there, crying. I didn’t understand why he was punishing me. I only wanted to look like my mother; I had done nothing wrong.” He frowns, eyelids fluttering to obscure a darker thought. “I didn’t figure it out until later—much later—that none of this was to punish me. It was all for her.” He smiles as I take up his fragile hands, kiss each and every finger in turn. “I think this was the only time I saw my mother cry. The next day…she—”

I hold him tight. Then, “I don’t care what anyone says,” he tells me. “We deserve this. We deserve a chance to be happy. Just once.”

Is he crying, too? But that’s okay. I can play this role, I can make it all better, I—I’ve got to. “Yeah.” I try and return to our kissing, my fantasy from the music store, but he pushes me away and jumps off the bed.

“Why don’t you roll a joint, or something.”

Did I do something wrong? “Do you want to share?”

He shrugs. “I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t, and feeling like maybe I need to.”

I don’t know why, but I’m so relieved I actually smile as I retrieve the foil from my suitcase.

I even get him to smoke some for himself, though it makes him cough so violently that we revert to the traditional shotgun toke, and I don’t try and encourage him again. Fifteen minutes later we switch off the light and fumble a way out of our clothes and into bed, both well and truly stoned. Pegasus squeals as my tongue teases his nipples, then moans with delight as I spiral down his belly. Breathing in his rose-scented skin, tasting him on my lips, I wish—

I wish I could go further. But I can’t, not yet.

I free his hair from its binding, and lie over him. “So beautiful,” I whisper in the moon dark. “I’ll never let you cut it. And I’ll kill anyone who tries to.”

He murmurs something under his breath. I pick up just enough to know he’s teasing me. “You can be whoever you want, with me. I’ll always protect you,” I answer. A vow, and another promise.

“I’ll come up with a Plan B, my sweet,” I hear him saying, but the words drag me too close to the surface, too close to pain, regret, consciousness. I don’t want any of those things here with us tonight. Even if it means I’ve got to forget—


Which I could never do. Trapped and helpless in too many ways, I let him roll me over, crawl on top of me, start kissing his way down my face—


Down my neck—


Across my chest—

Out comes his tongue, leaving delicate trails of spit where my stomach dips away from my ribs. What was my question? “What do you reckon happens, when we die?”

He lingers a moment, tracing patterns through the saliva, then slowly works a now moist hand over the head of my dick. I clench my teeth, stifling a moan of beautiful agony. “Why should you ask me this?” he murmurs, closing his fingers around me. Together we gasp, as he squeezes too hard and pushes down towards my balls.

“Does it matter, the reason why?” I ask, once I’ve gathered my thoughts. “I just wondered…where you thought you’d be going the other night?”

There’s a moment’s silence. And then he whispers in my ear, “Close your eyes, and I’ll show you.”

I start to ask what he means, but a strange sensation drives every thought and memory from my mind. I cry out in the darkness, reach for his head, try to pull him off me, try to warn him how this is too much. But somehow, my hands just get lost in that beautiful silky mane. I breathe in violent sobs, my thoughts left to collapse in on themselves again.

His tongue licks greedily over my foreskin, my balls, my thighs, and then suddenly, impossibly, I’m inside his mouth, warm, and wet, and—home? I’ve begun moving against him, trying to work my way deeper into his mouth—

You should stop. Now. He’ll hate you for this tomorrow. First you get him stoned, then you let him do this, and you’re not stopping him—oh, God.

Somehow he’s sucked me all the way in. My cock presses up against the lining of his throat in an identical rhythm to how he squeezed me with his hand—

Then he pulls back, just far enough that I’m overcome by a sudden wave of longing and loneliness. But he isn’t planning on leaving me at all. One hand wraps around the base of my dick, and he’s devouring me again, his hand moving against his mouth in the opposite rhythm. Stop it, stop it, stop it. Of course I don’t mean a word of it, as the heat burns through my cheeks, my heart thumping. I think I’m going to—

“Stop…Pegasus,” I whisper hoarsely, more desperate to drag him off. His only response is to swallow me up again, and bite down on me, hard. I surrender control, and go back to running my hands through his hair. Outside and inside I’m moaning—sobbing and shuddering and sweating and throbbing—and spilling into his mouth.

I lie sprawled on the bed, arms outstretched, fighting to catch my breath. He waits for my hard-on to die down completely before he lets go and falls against me. I wrap my arms around him, precious thing, hoping the wet heat on his cheeks is nothing more than perspiration, not tears. Half of me can’t believe what happened.

Our heartbeats return to some speed approaching normal, and he wriggles up my body till his head rests next to mine on the pillow. “Sorry, obviously I was still a bit peckish,” he jokes, but falters when I don’t say anything. “Did—did you like that?” he feels compelled to ask.

I almost laugh in his face. What a question. And then, there’s my secret. “No one ever did that for me before.”

He giggles, then rolls onto his side and pulls me across with him like a blanket. I snuggle into his soft little butt. Only… What’s the etiquette in this situation? Should I—? Am I supposed to—?

“Anyway, how did that answer my question?” I say instead, nuzzling into his neck.

“Perfectly, I thought.” One more giggle, before he elaborates. “It doesn’t matter, Raven. Death, I mean. It doesn’t matter where. It only matters who with. Do you see the difference?”

I frown. “Sort of.” Not really.

“Souls joined, no more barriers, no more cages between anything…spirals to true freedom. If you find your soul mate— At least, some people call them this. I think this is what they should mean.”

“What do you call it?”

“Raven,” he responds in a cheeky voice. Then, more seriously, “When we die, we unify, same as drops of water returned to the ocean. I always thought I should die alone—it was what I’d always been told, only…the other night, I began to realise…” He trails off. Is he asleep?

“What?” I insist.

“I’ll never leave you.”

“Angel.” I touch my lips to his cheek, right before he escapes me, into the sanctuary of dreams.

Next Chapter: 10.PEGASUS: The Rapunzel Syndrome

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