They rolled in the bed that was so hot it seemed to scorch the flesh that touched it. Dark, velvet hair pooled on the satin sheets, mingling with the finer, silkier strands of the other's hair that stuck to both of their bodies.
They were similar, very similar, in stature and appearance so that one might think there was only one and a mirror in the room. The mythical narcissus drowning unwittingly in the vision of himself. The pool was made not of water here but of heavy, thick fabric that rose and fell like waves, when air was taken captive in its folds or released.
"I want to live a long time and stay here…with you, Eclipse," said the haunted one. His eyes, normally as flat as a painting, was bright, almost feverish, as though the power within him consumed him.
"You will," Eclipse breathed.
The other smiled but it did not quite reach his eyes or hide the fact that neither of them believed Eclipse's words.
Raenef was up before his alarm went off. The gray quality of the light that filtered in through his slatted blinds marked an overcast day. Raenef felt as though he was wound up too tightly and he shook his limbs to try to shake away the unnerving feeling.
"Might as well get started on the day," he muttered, and grabbed a clean towel before dropping it on the floor and stepping into the shower. He gritted his teeth to brace himself for the first blast of cold water, then slowly relaxed as his body adjusted to the unheated water spilling over the top of his head. It beaded and rolled off his shoulders, down his back and stomach. Raenef didn't bother forking out the extra money for heated water unless there was snow on the ground.
After washing, he sat in front of his vanity and carefully rubbed the towel through his hair. Pale and bedraggled, Raenef could not see a single element in his face that could possibly charm E. Actually having the time to think about what he would wear, instead of running out the door in his pajamas, Raenef started pawing through his clothes, trying to track down pieces of his uniform. Finding a rumpled, white button down shirt and gray pants but unable to locate a tie, he decided this was such a departure from his usual worn t-shirt and slacks that the faculty at school probably wouldn't care if he wore a tie or not. His blazer was hung next to the silky robes that he wore often when working; the clothing looked odd juxtaposed next to each other.
It was only by luck that he caught sight of his scarf peeking out from the back of his closet, and the first step he took outside made him grateful for it. He locked the door and jiggled the handle to be sure; the door was getting loose and Raenef was sure any surly thug with the mind to do it could break into his place. Then again, who in the right mind would? No one could possibly tell from the decrepit building and the desolate appearance of his apartment complex that he had a fortune hidden away in crevices and nooks of his place. But he knew, and that made him paranoid.
Walking to school, he watched his breath escape his mouth, white and visible, rushing up to disappear into the gray, filmy sky. Debating whether or not he was too cheap to get coffee this morning, he passed by without stopping at the coffee shop that he, Erutis, and Chris usually frequent. Before things started getting weird, Raenef though. He caught sight of a tall, copper-haired man sitting inside the coffee shop looking expectant. Raenef forgot what it felt like to be that excited but seeing that man look so hopeful and at ease reassured him in a strange way.
As Raenef passed, the man suddenly looked up and his shockingly bright copper eyes caught his own, and smiled. Raenef returned the smile but it was for himself, for with that smile came a promise. Raenef promised himself that one day, he would also be able to sit alone like that, relaxed and content in waiting, satisfied with the moment of calmness, needing nothing more.
Chris steamed and huffed for exactly two days while Erutis tip-toed around him, annoyed yet not willing to bother dealing with his ridiculous anger. On the third day, Erutis left him to take a walk. It was night and the air was cool, though not particularly fresh (it was the city after all). She sighed audibly, the bottoms of her jeans scraping the pavement; she periodically had to hitch up her jeans over her bony hips. Erutis felt the last few days she was starting to think thoughts she shouldn't; thoughts she would have never thought she would begin to think.
The absence of Raenef from their threesome was jarring, as though there was a large gaping hole at her side. She and Chris agreed to give him time. It was odd to see him in class, looking so studious and innocent, taking copious notes. Erutis knew Raenef was also embarrassed, ashamed at how he had struck out against his closest, his only friends. She trusted that he would come back to them. But in the meantime, Raenef's forcible separation from the group made Erutis entertain different possibilities in her mind. Their relationships were fluid; though she was practically married to Chris at this point, living together as they were with no intention of stopping any time soon, she couldn't help wondering perhaps there were other possibilities for her out there. Other choices she could take. She was eighteen; she did not want to be married.
Though she never had much popularity among boys, there were a few in the years that followed her around like puppies, begging for a date. Their willingness charmed Erutis, though in the same second, made her pity them. She could never date them. All of them couldn't even begin to measure up to Chris (who she always measured boys against; he was, after all, the first boy she ever liked). Jayden had a perpetually runny nose; Ansley smelled like steamed carrots; Cant was too moody, trying too hard with his tortured artist persona.
If someone smart, strong-willed, attractive came along, would she consider leaving Chris? Had she only stayed with him out of convenience and lack of opportunity?
Erutis did not like these thoughts; she never questioned her feelings for Chris and did not know why Raenef separating from their group was making her question them now.
Maybe it was not Raenef who caused her to rethink her relationship with Chris.
Maybe it was the man sitting at the window of the same café she was at several days earlier.
The same man who she met that very day.
He saw her and his face broke out into a radiant smile. He had previously been sitting, one hand on his chin, staring into the street with a rather self-satisfied look on his face. But the smile on his face now was bright and enthusiastic, no trace of smugness. And maybe that enthralled Erutis a little, that she rendered someone she barely knew so smitten that his emotions could so easily be written across his face.
The café was lit with a hundreds of little lights, framing the windows, wrapping around the topiary trees flanking the doorway. Erutis stepped into their light and stared at Krayon, taking the moment to study his face. He allowed her to and she appreciated this; she appreciated that he did not move from his spot inside the café, that he let her stay safe behind this barrier of glass. Chris was pushy and imperceptive; he would have wanted to know what she was doing. He would have grabbed her by the arm to drag her into the café with him, or maybe out into the street. This man was different. It was as though he could sense her unpredictability, as though she was a nervous deer, and if he made any sudden movements, she would run away.
For that was how Erutis felt. Her heart was pounding, even just looking at this man. His face was carved with much more precision than most; his features were molded from stone. His hair seemed to soak in the dim, café lighting in a way that no one else's did; the copper burned into the color of deep, red embers. Erutis was sure her fingers would burn if she ran them through the kinked locks. She avoided his eyes; if she looked at them she knew she would be lost. Slowly, her senses seemed to leave her. She no longer heard the steady noise of traffic behind her; smell no longer reached her nostrils. The night air was imperceptible on her skin. Only her eyes worked, locked onto Krayon's face, as though possessed.
Then, with considerable effort, Erutis turned her eyes away, and then with more effort, turned away from him entirely. Then she began to run away from him, run as fast as she could.
She was thankful that he did not attempt to follow her.
Raenef was hurrying down the corridor towards his room at the Demon's Lair when he was roughly pulled by the arm and into a little, darkened niche in the hallway.
"Hey, cut it out!" he whined, once he realized who it was. He untangled his arm from Ophie's surprisingly strong grip. Raenef was even more paranoid and jumpy after his encounter with the Rat and this wasn't helping. Ophie ignored him and pushed the other boy further into the shadows and ventured a look out into the hallway.
"Someone was here looking for you," Ophie said, lowly. "Actually there were two."
E's face flitted before Raenef's eyes and his breath caught in his throat.
"Who?" he asked, breathlessly.
Ophie frowned. "One of them I think was a customer. He was vile."
"What was he here for?"
"He was complaining, saying you did him a great injustice," he said. "Screaming and throwing a fit until he just disrupted everyone even people downstairs and you can hardly hear anything down there over that music."
"That must have been the Rat," Raenef said, frowning slightly. After that night, his thoughts were mainly on E and he hadn't pondered the possibility that E hadn't taken care of the Rat for good.
"The Rat?" Ophie repeated. "Yes, I think that's what Meruhesae called him."
Raenef groaned. "Oh no, Meruhesae found out?"
"I told you, he disrupted everyone."
"How mad is she?" Raenef asked. Meruhesae was strict on propriety and she considered customers to be guests to the Demon's Lair; and guests were never disrespected.
"She isn't," Ophie said. "And it's all because of him. The second person who came looking for you."
Raenef's heart was fluttering in his throat. "Describe him."
"He was tall and dangerous looking. Look, Raenef, are you involved with him? Because I can see the appeal but he also doesn't look like he would be someone that would make another happy. Like I said, he looked dangerous."
"That's E," Raenef said, inadvertently clutching Ophie's thin arm. "E was here!"
Ophie looked at him strangely and pried Raenef's fingers away from his upper arm. "Yes, well, he said something to the man – the Rat, I think you called him?- and made him leave. Your customer was still furious but he still left. Nothing Meruhesae said could do that. Then the other man, E, spoke with Meruhesae for awhile. Then I thought I heard you coming so I came around to warn you."
"He's not my customer anymore," Raenef said, fiercely. "And I'll make sure of that."
Ophie shook his head. "Judging from how hard he slammed all the doors on his way out, I don't think he's coming back."
Raenef pushed past Ophie and ran to his room; maybe he would still be here. Maybe he was waiting for him.
His hand hesitated, wavering on the jeweled doorknob. Summoning the courage, Raenef opened the door.
His room was empty.
It was as though all of the energy was sucked out of his stomach, and Raenef literally staggered with disappointment, sagging against the doorway. He felt a sympathetic hand on his back and knew it was Ophie.
"I'm not involved with him," Raenef sighed. "He wouldn't have someone like me."
"And what is that supposed to mean?" Ophie asked, perhaps a bit wounded at the possibility of implying something negative about their occupation.
Raenef did not answer; he suddenly noticed an envelope on his table. It seemed to take an eternity to move to the small, jeweled table but he was there and he stared down at the envelope. Opening it, he realized it was all there, every last bill. He upturned the envelope and the money came flitting out of it, spilling out onto the surface of the table, falling to the floor. The last thing to fall from the envelope was not a bill but a small yellow piece of paper that Raenef grasped for. Mentally preparing himself, Raenef forced himself to read the note.
I appreciate your token of appreciation; the money belongs to you. I will see you again to receive payment n another form.
The note dropped from his shaking hands.
"You are in trouble," Ophie remarked. Raenef found he had to agree.