Listen to the Tortured playlist by clicking here
But, now, uncertain of the length
Of this, that is between,
It goads me, like the Goblin Bee
That will not state its sting.
-Emily Dickinson, "If you were coming in the Fall"
To: Ian Hoyt <[email protected]>
From: Arabella Hoyt <[email protected]>
Subject: This is ridiculous
First it's taken your boys months to find them, when they were right under our noses the entire time. Then I get news that you've botched it yet again.
A bloodbath at the Spring Formal and my grandson headed back to me on a plane? And my granddaughter, I understand, is still out there somewhere, with that wretched thing. You were supposed to destroy him. He's an eighteen-year-old boy. How hard could it be?
I closed the door to the hotel room after me, tossed the shopping bag on the bed, and collapsed on it. Jason came out of the bathroom, a towel around his waist. Beads of water glittered on his chest.
And his hair . . .
I got up and went to him, putting my hands on his head.
Which he'd shaved.
"Oh Jason," I murmured. Jason's hair hadn't been cut in awhile. It had been getting to this shaggy, unkempt sort of stage, which I'd really, really liked. Now he looked completely different, like a baby bird or something, plucked clean. I rubbed my hands over the short, soft stubble.
"You hate it," he said.
I did. "No," I said. "It's just different."
He nodded. "Yeah, that's the idea."
Jason had decided that since we were on the run again, and no one was going to have much of any idea where we were, it was probably a good idea to change our appearances. With any luck, it would take them time to trace Haversham's plane, which they would believe we were on. By that time, hopefully, we'd have figured out what to do with our power. That is, if we actually had any, and we could actually use it. Still, we weren't sure exactly how long it was going to take us to follow Michaela's journal. And we weren't sure if that would even help us. If it did, we didn't know if it would take months of practice to hone our skills. We needed every advantage we could get.
Jason crossed to the bed, opening the shopping bag I'd brought with me. "What'd you get?" he asked.
One of the things I really despised about this whole being on the run thing was that I always had to leave my clothes behind. I'd had a fabulous wardrobe in Bradenton, which we hadn't been able to go back for. And now, when I'd just started to get a nice collection of clothes again, we had to leave those too.
Jason pulled a few pairs of jeans out of the bag. He surveyed them. "These are for me?"
"Yeah," I said. "And don't start complaining about the style of Italian guys' clothes. We're trying to blend."
Jason rolled his eyes, but tossed them on the bed. He pulled more clothes out of the bag, including some underwear I'd purchased. He held up a pair of bikini briefs with little pink polka dots on them. "These are for you, right?" he asked, grinning.
I snatched them away from him. "If I'd known you were going to comment on everything I bought, I would have bought you tighty-whiteys."
He smiled. "I'm sorry," he said, laughing. "It's very sweet, you buying underwear for me."
I threw the panties I was holding at his head.
He pulled them off his face. "What?" he said, looking innocent. "It's very domestic. I like it."
"Shut up," I said. "I am not domestic."
"Okay, fine," he said. He pulled out a box of hair dye and eyed it. "Red, huh?"
"What?" I said. "You said it had to be a different color than what my natural color is."
"Yeah," he said. "But red?"
"What's wrong with red? I mean, what choices did I have? Black's not that much different than brown, and I guess I could have gone blonde, but stripping color out of your hair is really hard on it and" I broke off. "You wanted me to be blonde, didn't you? God! Boys."
"No," said Jason. "I didn't want you to do anything. I like your hair the way it is. And red is . . . very different." He turned the box over in his hands. "It's also the color of Lilith's hair."
I grabbed the box away from him silently and went into the bathroom. I wasn't even going to respond to that comment, because it was stupid, anyway. I hadn't picked up this color of hair dye because I wanted to look like Lilith. Sure, I'd envied Lilith's looks during our entire friendship. And yes, there had been a time when I was really worried that Jason wanted Lilith and not me. But that wasn't why I'd picked red. It really wasn't.
I opened the box and began taking stuff out of it. Gloves. Several bottles. The instructions.
Which were in Italian. Well, there were pictures. It appeared that I needed to mix the contents of the first two bottles, then squeeze it all over my hair, and then leave it on for 25 minutes. The other bottle was apparently conditioner or something.
Jason appeared in the doorway. "You know I was never going to do anything with Lilith."
"I never said you were," I said, twisting the top off one of the bottles. God. That didn't smell very good.
"Wait," said Jason, "we should cut your hair first." Oh right. I'd forgotten we were cutting my hair too. I recapped the bottle. Jason reappeared with scissors. He gestured for me to take off my shirt. "We'll put a towel around your shoulders. We don't want your clothes dyed or anything."
I fingered the edge of my shirt. I bit my lip.
Jason moved close. "You're the only girl I've ever wanted. You have to believe that."
"It's not about that, Jason," I said. "I don't like hearing her name." I pulled my shirt over my head forcefully. I reached for a towel and draped it around my shoulders. "I killed her."
I faced the mirror. Jason stood behind me. He picked up a comb and dragged it through my hair. Then I heard the first sound of scissors slicing through my hair. A lock fell down to the floor. I stared at it.
"You know," said Jason. "She was trying to kill you at the time. It was self-defense. I know it's not easy. But you can't keep beating yourself up about it."
"I think I could have talked her out of it," I muttered.
The scissors cut through my hair again.
"She was saying all this stuff," I continued. "About how she was never going to be loved and how . . . I don't know. I was getting to her. I think I could have made her let me go. I think I could have helped her. I think, in the end, she was just really hurt and confused. And I just . . . I just shot her. And her head. It was all"
"Stop," said Jason, cutting off another lock of my hair. "She had a knife to your throat. She was working for the Satanists. I'm not saying she deserved to die, Azazel. But I'm saying you had to do what you did. If she'd killed you, I would have killed her."
Yeah. He probably would have. But after Jude had shot Jason in the head, and Jason was lying on the ground, and I thought he was dead, I hadn't gone after Jude, had I? If Jason had been dead, would I have . . . ? "I just don't like talking about her," I said.
Jason snipped again. He was quiet for a minute, just cutting and looking at his handiwork. "I've been thinking," he said, "about your nightmares and stuff. I think that this has all been harder on you than it is on me. I mean, Azazel, you were betrayed by everyone you ever cared about. And the people you had to shoot . . . they were people who were close to you. I've never been close to anyone like that. Except, well, except you." He turned my face to look at him and cut the pieces of my hair, right at my chin. He checked to see if they were even. Then he gazed into my eyes. "It makes sense why it hurts you so much. That's all I'm saying. But I've never blamed you for anything. And I don't think you should blame yourself."
I looked at myself in the mirror. My hair was cut in a bob, barely reaching past my chin. I touched it. Jason had done a good job. "What about Anton?" I asked the mirror.
Jason didn't say anything.
"Didn't he betray you?" I said.
Jason just breathed.
"Do you blame yourself for that?"
Jason handed me the bottle I'd recapped. "You should dye your hair now," he said.
He left the bathroom. I heard the television in the hotel room flip on. It was in Italian. What was he going to do? Just sit around staring at people speaking a language he didn't understand?
I probably shouldn't have said that to him, I thought as I began to mix the hair dye. Jason had been trying to reassure me and to help me. Not only hadn't I accepted it, but I'd thrown Anton in his face. It wasn't a spoken rule, but I knew better than to mention him, especially not to mention the fact that Jason had killed him. Anton had been the closest thing to a father Jason had ever had.
Once I had dye all over my hair, I did the best I could to clean up the hair that was on the floor from my hair cut, and I put the box of hair dye in the trash. The twenty-five minutes I was supposed to wait passed pretty quickly because I couldn't stop thinking. Was Jason right? Was I blaming myself for something that wasn't actually my fault? After all, I didn't blame Jason for killing Anton. He'd been defending himself. He'd been betrayed and confused. Was I being harder on myself than I was being on Jason?
But if I could forgive myself for what I'd done to Lilith and my brothers, what would that mean that I would become? While I didn't necessarily blame Jason for what he'd done, there was some part of him that had gotten hardened by all of it. I remembered the look on his face while he was beating the member of the Sons to a pulp at the prom. He'd been lost in his vengeance then. And I remembered the way he'd been about to kill Jude without even telling me about it. Sometimes I felt like Jason was slipping away from me.
I got in the shower to rinse off the hair dye. When I got out, I noticed that the television wasn't on anymore. I rubbed my hair with a towel, staring at myself in the mirror. Wow. My hair was really red, wasn't it? I didn't look much like myself either. Was that what was happening to Jason and me? Were we becoming something else?
I went into the bedroom, still wrapped in my towel. Jason was sprawled on the bed, reading Michaela Weem's diary.
He looked up at me. "Wow," he said. "That's red."
"Yeah," I agreed.
We were quiet for a few minutes.
I cleared my throat. "Listen, I'm sorry I said anything. You were just trying to help."
Jason snapped the diary shut. "I don't blame myself," he said. "I don't, and I haven't in a while. And I don't want to read this diary anymore." He threw it at me.
I caught it. I looked from the diary to Jason. I'd made him angry. I shouldn't have said anything.
"You know why I don't want to read it?" he asked me.
I shook my head.
"Because I don't want to think of her like that," he muttered. "I don't want to think of her like a teenage girl, having normal regular emotions. I don't want her to be a person, Azazel. Because I killed her. And I killed Anton. And I've killed . . ." He stood up from the bed and went across the room to the window. He pulled the curtains open and looked out into the night.
I set the diary on the bed and padded over to him. I put a tentative hand on his back. He turned to me. "What's happening to me?" he whispered. "What's happening to us?"
I grabbed his hands and kissed his fingers. His knuckles. His palms. He pulled me close, his lips against my ear. "Sometimes, I think if I can just be close enough to you . . ."
"That it will all just go away?" I finished.
"That it does. Go away. That the only thing important then is you and me and our bodies."
I kissed him. "Let's make it go away," I whispered, my hands going to my towel to untuck it.
Jason put his hands over mine, stopping me. "If I'm ever too intense," he said, "if I ever scare you, like that time in my dorm, you should"
"Shh," I said, untucking my towel so that it fell away onto the floor. "You don't scare me." And he didn't. Not anymore.
Jason's hands skimmed my bare skin, spanning my waist and crushing me against him. And it was so desperate, so immediate, and so hungry, that I didn't have time to think to tell him where to put his fingers or how to try to please me.
It was only afterwards, when the hotel room was dark, and Jason was gently snoring next to me in bed, that I lay awake, watching shadows on the ceiling and feeling unfinished. I bit my lip, wondering why everything had to be so complicated. When guys had sex, it seemed to be entirely made for their bodies. There were no extraneous zones, places that needed to be stimulated by anything other than the act of intercourse itself. Was it some kind of cruel joke that our most sensitive place, our place of deepest pleasure was just a few inches too far away? Why?
Instead of thinking about it too much longer, I just got up and started reading the diary. If Jason didn't want to read it, I would.
Brother Mancini wasn't happy to see us. We knocked on the door of the monastery and asked for him. When he arrived at the door, he ushered us into his office, trying to take care that no one saw us. Once inside, he slammed the door to the office. "I thought I made it clear why the two of you shouldn't be here," he said.
Jason lounged against the door to the office. I sat down in a chair across from Brother Mancini's desk. "Well, we were having lots of fun at school," Jason said, "until a bunch of guys with guns came in and shot up our prom."
We were in Rome. We'd taken a train that morning. Brother Mancini was our first stop.
"I'd heard about the incident at the Sol Solis School, of course," said Brother Mancini. "And I'm sorry. But there is absolutely no way you can stay here. We'd offer you shelter, but we are at capacity with all the defectors from the Sons. I'm very sorry."
"That's not why we're here, Brother Mancini," I said. I held up the diary. "We're here about this."
Brother Mancini looked flustered. He sat down at his desk. "I don't know what that is."
"It's Michaela Weem's diary," I said. "She mentions you."
"Michaela Weem?" Brother Mancini was blank.
"Michaela Weem," said Jason. "She says she and Edgar, her soon-to-be husband, came through the monastery about eighteen years ago. Ringing any bells now?"
"I'm sorry, no," said Brother Mancini. He was starting to look less flustered and more annoyed.
"My parents," said Jason.
Recognition flitted across Brother Mancini's face. He stood up from his desk, going for the door. "Listen, I'd love to chat with you two, but I don't know anything about that, and since it really wouldn't be prudent for our guests to see you"
Jason was still lounging against the door. He put his hand on the knob just as Brother Mancini reached for it, blocking him.
I spoke up. "Michaela says you directed the two of them to a guy named . . ." I had this page marked. I opened up the diary to look. ". . .Cornelius Agricola." I closed the diary. "This of course was after she and Edgar went to Colosseum and made love in the moonlight while chanting Latin spells."
Brother Mancini's face had gone ashen. He moved away from the door. "What are the two of you up to? I thought I explained to you that it was highly unlikely that there was anything to the idea of the Rising Sun."
"Funny thing," said Jason. "Just recently, Azazel and I were able to make everyone in the entire school think we were really, really awesome. And we have no idea how we did it. I'm not saying I'm the Rising Sun. But, you know, I did come back from the dead."
"We found this diary," I said. "We thought if we could figure out what Edgar Weem did to create Jason, maybe we could understand what we were doing."
"Well," said Brother Mancini, "Cornelius Agricola is dead."
Jason and I exchanged a look. Even I could tell he was lying.
"I don't think he is," said Jason. "Why don't you just tell us where he is, and we'll be out of your hair."
Brother Mancini shook his head quickly, moving back to his desk. "No," he said. "You don't want to see Cornelius." He began straightening piles of papers on his desk.
"Why?" I said.
"He's not exactly a very stable person," said Brother Mancini, stacking the piles on top of each other.
Jason raised his eyebrows. "We can handle unstable," he said. "We can handle a lot of things."
Brother Mancini just kept shaking his head. "No, I don't think so," he said. "I won't tell you where that man is. In fact, I don't even think I remember. And maybe he is dead. God help us, maybe he is." He looked up at us with a strained smile. "Well, if that's all, then the two of you should really be on your way, shouldn't you, then?"
"We're not leaving until you tell us where to find Cornelius Agricola," I said. "What's so unstable about him anyway?"
Brother Mancini crossed himself. "The Reddimus Order may not be the most traditional in its beliefs," he said. "Certainly, we are students of pagan religions and mythology. Perhaps not all of us see things as black and white. But, I must tell you, if there is evil in the universe, Cornelius Agricola serves it. And it has been my misfortune to have to deal with him." He stood up again. "But that is all I will say about him. You won't get anymore out of me, and I refuse to tell you where he is."
Brother Mancini went back to the door. Jason didn't move.
"Evil, huh?" asked Jason. "Well, Azazel and I know a little bit about that, considering she's imbued with the spirit of a Jewish demon, and I'm the devil incarnate, so that's really not going to scare us off. If this guy's so bad, why do you even know who he is?"
"No!" said Brother Mancini, putting his hand on the doorknob. Jason settled firmly against the door. "I won't talk about it. You won't make me. You two need to go."
Jason caught my eye above Brother Mancini's head. "Don't be difficult, Brother Mancini," he said. "We'd really like this to be a pleasant visit."
"Yeah," I said. "Just tell us where he is." I reached into my jacket for my gun. I just put my hand on it. I didn't take it out.
"I've told you I won't," said Brother Mancini. "You can't trap me here in my own office."
I slid the gun out. "Brother Mancini," I said. "Please just tell us what we want to know."
At the sight of the gun, Brother Mancini began muttering to himself in rapid Italian. He retreated into a corner of the room, his hands in front of his face, cowering away from us. Jason pushed away from the door, drawing his own gun. I stood up. We advanced on Brother Mancini. Both of us leveled our guns.
Brother Mancini's eyes were wide. "Listen," he said. "Cornelius Agricola is not someone you can just have a chat with. If you knew what he'd done and why he forces the Order and the Church to allow him to stay in the city, you wouldn't want to go there."
"So tell us," said Jason.
"No," said Brother Mancini, crossing himself again.
"We don't want to shoot you, do we, Azazel?" Jason asked me.
"No, we don't," I said. "Thing about shooting people is that it's always messy."
"Fine!" said Brother Mancini. "Fine, I'll get you his address. But put away the guns!"
"We weren't really going to shoot him, were we?" I asked Jason as we strode out of the monastery.
Jason handed me the slip of paper Brother Mancini had given us with Cornelius Agricola's address on it. "Maybe in the leg," said Jason, "if he really wouldn't have given us the address."
I nodded. That sounded reasonable. "It was kind of cool, wasn't it?" I said. "I mean, standing over him with our guns like that. It felt, I don't know, kind of powerful." I looked at Jason. "Do you think that's bad?"
He shrugged. "We didn't hurt him. Don't worry about it."
Okay. I wouldn't.
Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers