“You know, I still haven’t heard a word from Nemesis,” I say to Rebel over my shoulder before turning back to the mirror.
I finish fussing with my hair, a woven braid over either shoulder. Grabbing the tube of black cherry lipstick, I pop off the cap and pout my lips.
“The whole point of me attending that ridiculous auction was to find love. I thought she would do perfectly. I thought we’d be well-matched. That’s what all the humans talk about: finding their equal. But I can’t reach her anywhere. How am I supposed to fall in love with her if we never even see each other?”
From behind me, I hear the soft, rapid tapping of Rebel’s legs as she skitters across the bed, down to the floor, and up the back of my chair. She finds her usual place on my shoulder, the small hairs on her back tickling my neck as she nestles into me.
I sigh, but give in to her touch, caressing her with my cheek for a moment.
“Maybe she’s just busy with all this Titan nonsense. You know, I heard that they’ve even managed to tie Thanatos up. Thanatos! The embodiment of death itself and the Titans took him down like he was some measly human. I guess no one is really safe.”
The thought reminds me of Mnemosyne and the message she left during one of my last appointments. The Titans sure are doing everything in their power to gain our attention. I wonder if any Immortal truly is off-limits.
My eyes bulge at the sudden horrifying thought. “You don’t think they got Nemesis too, do you?”
A chime rings in the air and it takes me a second to remember that Rebel and I installed a new doorbell. These past few weeks things have been dead here, and I’m pretty sure it’s because I couldn’t hear when anyone was at the door.
“Customer,” I say, one eyebrow raised. Although I’d like to spend the day stewing about Nemesis and trying to figure out why she’s avoiding me, the prospect of income sways me.
Rebel all but whines as she saunters off her perch, taking to the shadows so as not to scare anyone off—we’ve learnt the hard way, that apparently, mortals are not too fond of large arachnids. Pity.
The woman I greet at the entrance is puffy-eyed and far too snotty for someone of her age. Before she even crosses the threshold, she demands the Lust dreamland. I try convincing her otherwise. No offense to the woman, but she just seems better-suited to the Gluttony or Acedia dreamland, a place where she could fully embrace her rapacious appetite. However, when she explains to me a need for a room that will set the mood for her more lecherous desires, I’m both surprised and impressed.
Obligingly, I lead her into the red room.
By midday, I’ve had six customers express the same preference of room, with four others waiting in the seating area for their turn, rather than jumping into any of the other available rooms. Each of them insists it’s the room that will suit their needs best, and Rebel and I are left scratching our heads, trying to figure out what this influx of love-sick harlots and studs is all about.
You’d think I’d be happy about having so many paying customers. However, as luck would have it, every dream I imbue them with becomes twisted and charred. It seems Mnemosyne has not yet grown tired of her meddling. Was I not so busy, I’d likely do something about it.
My sixth customer leaves, just as all of the others have, his face more swollen and tearful than when he first entered the premises. To my surprise, and slight relief, none of the people waiting seem to care, they’re all too focused on receiving their own happy ending. A better immortal might tell them all to clear out and spare them the damage that Mnemosyne’s corruption might inflict.
However, I am not a better immortal. Part of me relishes in their silent sobs, their tremors, as their precious dreams are ripped to shreds. Perhaps if anyone ever came to me for my All Nightmare Long services, I would have my fix of unpleasant dreams. But, since no one has, here we are.
“Next,” I call out over the group of dismal faces. “Bexley, is it?”
“Just Bex,” a young woman says, standing from her chair. She moves like a roller derby jammer, thick-boned to withstand impact if need be, but agile enough to maneuver like a cat. “The holiday got you busy?”
My head falls back as understanding kicks in. “Ohhhhh, a holiday. No wonder so many of you are in today.”
“Yeah,” she says on the breath of a clipped laugh. “Judging from the waterworks, I’d bet today’s theme has been broken hearts.”
“Yes, exactly!” My steps quicken until I’m walking right beside her. “Tell me, what holiday is it? Why has it broken so many of you?”
Bex snorts. “Didn’t break me. I still get laid every year on Valentine’s Day, and I did yesterday, too.”
Ah, Valentine’s Day. The day that consumerism has dubbed as the day of purchasing gifts to show one’s affections.
“If you already got…what you wanted from your holiday, then why are you here?”
Bex sets her eyes to stone. “I didn’t say I got everything I wanted; I said I got laid. But sex and love aren’t exactly the same thing.” She twists, looking at me like she’s just smelled something rancid. “I was told you don’t ask questions.”
“Well then, you were told wrong. I cannot do my job if I don’t first come to understand you.”
“Oh, really,” she says, folding her arms over one another and slamming her back against the doorframe. “You think you know me?”
It takes some convincing, but I give Bex my brief analysis: a lonely woman far too empowered and independent to ever allow herself to weaken and be vulnerable in any true, long-lasting relationship. She doesn’t deny it and seems impressed because it takes no more coaxing to get her under the satin sheets. It also takes no coaxing for me to join her, either.
Our clothes lose themselves at the base of the bed while we entangle ourselves in each other like ravenous vultures, hungry for lips and tongues and saliva and heat.
It is not romantic. It is not everlasting. We crash into each other as hard and fast as waves, and just as quickly, both of us slicked with sea salt, we return back to the sea. Of all of my clients, Bex was the only one to leave satisfied today.
She is right, though. There is a chasm of distance between sex and love when the two aren’t part of the same cliff. Sex is fun, sure, but there are ways in which it leaves one unfulfilled.
Our rendezvous, though exhilarating, only makes me all the angrier at Nemesis, angrier at all of love, even at Eros for ever even twirling that damned arrow of his! It is no wonder so many broken hearts have filled my sheets today when so many others just trample and spit on the rest of us. Why should anyone even bother with love at all? Why should others get that joy when so many of us are denied it?
“Rebel,” I say into the shadows when the last client has gone. Her eight eyes glisten back at me, each of them blinking on a different beat than the last as she creeps her way across the ceiling before dropping down onto my upturned hand. “The mortals taught me something valuable today.”
She quirks her round head.
“Did you know that so many of their dreams involved sweets? Don’t ask me why, but for some reason, most of them seemed to believe that a simple box of chocolates would’ve saved their marriages, their affairs, their crushes. Oh, how wrong they all are. However, it made me realize one thing.”
The soft tips of Rebel’s legs dance with anticipation against my palm.
“We know someone who deals in sweets, and we know he’s incapacitated for the time being—” a smile, feline and wicked spreads, “leaving us entirely free to wreak whatever havoc we see fit.”
Once we’re outside of the OA, all it takes is a thought and the world swallows us up. Seconds later, it spits Rebel and me inside the Chicago factory of Thanatos’ Mr. T’s Sweet & Sundae Shoppe.
Black clouds coil around my fingertips, dripping down my legs to pool in a sea of black at my feet. Slowly I spin, my eyes roaming over every piece of taffy, every vat of ice cream, and every caramel and jellybean, until I finally find the section where the chocolates are.
Each tub is as tall as a small house, filled to the brim with every kind of chocolate imaginable. There’s white chocolate, milk chocolate, gold chocolate, and peppermint chocolate. It would be easy to dip my nightmares into all of them, ruin every last stock of sweets in Thanatos’ possession, but I’m far too single-minded for that. I like the dark, and so the dark I shall choose.
My mouth is watering from the rich, creamy scent as I finally lean over the vat of dark chocolate tumbling and stirring over itself by some large mechanic spool.
“He should name this one Darkest Dreams,” I say, my voice low and guttural. The shadows spill from my fingers, weaving their way into the melting pot, the brown darkening only so slightly. “Maybe after tonight, he will.”
Rebel and I vanish with another crack of the world, just before one of the workers enters the room, none the wiser.