I didn’t say anything to him the entire way to the address the detective wrote down on the piece of yellow paper. We sat in silence, smoking our respective cigarettes with our eyes forward. I noticed that when I moved, so did Love, mimicking my every move. It angered me, but I didn’t want to pick a fight about something I didn’t fully understand.
The address was of a nice hotel on the opposite side of town. I parked and walked into the fancy building. Well-lit chandeliers sparkled above my head, and I was glad my attire allowed me to fit in without raising suspicion.
The staff smiled, nodded, tilted their heads, or winked with approval at my presence there. My suit was slightly tattered from the altercation at the precinct, but not to a level that would muster disapproval from the wealthy patrons in the hotel.
I moved through the crowd of people on my way to the bar. The woman behind the counter, dressed in a nice collar shirt with her hair pulled back into a bun, smiled as I approached.
“What can I get ya?” she asked with a wink.
“Whiskey, please,” I answered, adjusting my already straight collar.
“Neat,” I corrected. She poured a generous amount into the glass and slid it to me.
“What? Nothing for me?” Love asked, his freshly lit cigarette dangling from his mouth.
I removed a hundred-dollar bill I had folded up inside my jacket pocket and placed it on the counter.
“Wow, what’s that for?” she said, cocking her head to one side.
“The bottle,” I answered, pointing my finger at the half-empty container.
She paused for a moment as if she were about to decline before she cleared her throat and handed me the bottle. “Screw it,” she said, unfolding the bill as she stared at me. “What do I care? It’s not mine.”
I smirked, nodding with appreciation as I walked over to the seating area adjacent to the bar. Each booth had a soft light hanging over the middle of the table. I picked the one furthest away from the bar, tucked into the back corner.
I sat down, placing the bottle in the middle of the table, and took a generous drink from my glass. The smooth burn warmed my throat on the way down. I closed my eyes to avoid Love’s glare. He plopped onto the bench seat across from me.
“Don’t ignore me,” he said, grabbing the bottle. “I don’t need a glass, by the way. So, thanks.” He chugged a fair amount from the bottle.
“What are you doing here?” I grumbled, attempting to avoid a scene.
“I don’t follow,” he replied.
“You were in my head, and now you’re here in front of me—”
“Yeah, I came through after your split from Jealousy and Hatred, remember?”
I didn’t like his candor. It changed from a calm reserve that he showed me in my head to a resolve that reminded me of a rattlesnake before it was about to strike. He was provoking me. I could feel it.
“You know what I mean,” I growled.
“Easy, Dinlas,” he said. “There’s no need to cause a scene. Unless you want to draw attention to you talking to yourself.”
“Enough,” I snarled, leaning in over the table. “There is something different about you, something off from when we had our first encounter.”
“That’s because it was in your head,” he replied. “I’m no longer in your head. I’m out now, so I’m free to be myself.”
“You’re a projection—”
“I’m going to stop you right there,” he interrupted. “Don’t pretend you know how this works because up until about an hour ago, you didn’t even know I existed. So, I’m going to enlighten you a bit, but just enough to give you a clue and only to shut you up from further outbursts.”
Anger gripped my heart with a sudden tightness as I growled under my breath. He chuckled, grabbing his chest with a mocking gesture.
“Easy there, big guy,” he continued. “I feel what you feel. I hear what you hear, think what you think, remember?”
“Why can you but Hatred couldn’t?”
“Wrong again,” he mocked, taking a drag from his cigarette. “She could too, along with Jealousy, but only Jealousy let you in on that. He thought it would draw you closer to him.”
“Not so fast,” he interjected. “I’m not going to just give you the ending without allowing you to take the journey. The fact is that you’re broken, Dinlas. This whole journey you’ve taken away from the family, isolating yourself, has shattered you more than you could imagine. Why do you think Mel found you?”
That was a name I hadn’t heard in a while. I hadn’t thought about her since my interactions with the detective. I felt my blood run cold as I remembered the destruction left in her wake. That was new, and my pause forced Love to burst into laughter.
“Oh, wow, you really have no idea, do you?” he asked, placing his elbows on the table as he leaned in. “Dinlas, you have been spiraling since you left home. Your first misstep was leaving Jealousy and Hatred behind. That started the fracture.”
I leaned back in my seat, feeling a weight slide down my throat into my stomach. Could it be true? Or was Love feeding me a story to get what he desires? What does he want?
“You. I want you, well, to be you,” Love said, tapping his temple with his index finger. “We all want that, but only a couple of us have the power to take over.”
“Take over?” I interjected.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to say that,” he said, inhaling deeply before blowing smoke at me. “I didn’t want to skip to the ending. I wanted you to take the journey.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. An unfamiliar croak in my throat choked my words, and I stopped to catch my breath. Love raised his eyebrows and laughed as the smoke shot from his mouth.
“The sad thing is that you don’t even realize how much you’re loved,” he continued. “Your family searches for you and desperately wants you to come home.”
“They never cared before—”
“Wrong again,” he interrupted. “They love you, which is how I exist within you. Do you think I could be here inside your head without the love radiating from your family? You suppressed their love and suppressed me. I explained this already, and I don’t need to go any further but just know that you have issues, serious issues.”
Sweat began to bead across my forehead. I didn’t know if it was due to the overhead light or if it was my nerves. I felt off. Something was wrong, and I felt as if I were losing control. My hand trembled as I reached for my glass, and my vision blurred. Love’s laughter filled my ears until the ringing settled in. I brought the glass to my lips, pouring the rest of the whiskey down my throat. It didn’t help. His laughter warbled as my vision shifted, smearing the surroundings into a puddle of color.
“It won’t be long now,” Love said as I lost consciousness for the second time.