I slam the door and push my back up against it, trying to block out the world. I still can’t believe what I saw and what was said.
I move further into the apartment, bypassing the perfectly presented selection of alcohol bottles, heading instead straight to the sink. My hand shakes a bit as with a deft movement of my wrist, I send water crashing into the bowl. I shove my head under the stream, lapping at the cool liquid. I suck down mouthfuls before I finally surface. Did that really just happen?
“You mean was the object of your affections with another man?”
Suddenly, my mind is back at that hideous moment.
I had been stocking up on supplies, breathing life into my clay army was going to take it out of me. It would leave me drained, flat out on the sofa, and in need of sustenance. I had to make sure I had provisions to keep me going. I wouldn’t be fit to do much, and I certainly didn’t trust any person enough to leave them standing watch over me. No one was going to be cooking me a meal or serving up drinks.
I had been reading a newspaper, taking in the details of the man who had become prime minister, all as a result of Robert Pacer’s incarceration. Had it not been for me setting Pacer up for a fall, the country’s new leader, Mark Maxwell, may not have swept to power with such ease.
My attention was focused on the predictions for the man’s new top team, how he’ll deliver on his pledges of improving the economy, reducing health issues, and improving justice in the courts. As I read, the fingers on my other hand strained against the weight of the bags full of junk food, joints turning red and puffy. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was still debating if I should go back for the chocolate raisins, too. Got to have a little bit of fruit. Then she was there, right in front of me. And she wasn’t alone. The hunk that Lily had her arm locked around towered over me, his expression one of radiant calm. He was completely unaware of what he was in the middle of.
“Darren…errr…hi,” was the best Lily could come up with, as her eyes darted around, unable to meet mine. I couldn’t find the words. I just couldn’t process what I was feeling. The lie I would need. I’m pretty certain my jaw had hung open, as some simple idiot. Still unaware that something wasn’t quite right, the Adonis had stuck out his free hand,
“Darren? That’s my name, too. Dude, how weird is that, right?”
I still didn’t know what to say. Their positioning was too close. It was obvious, it was the dawn of a romance. Those early moments when the tingle of excitement creates electricity with each and every touch. I would have sworn if I could be that honest. Lily finally tried to come to my rescue,
“Yeah, Darren, this is…ahhh…Darren.” Her eyes spoke volumes, almost summoning up an apology for our last conversation, the way she’d behaved and what she’d said to me. But it was something more, something worse, she just didn’t want to be having the conversation.
After a few flaps of my chin, I had got a grip of myself and mumbled, “Nice to meet you.” It wasn’t. I don’t know how this could have happened.
“Surely you anticipated this. Planned for it?” The voice is clearer in my head than it’s ever been before. I can’t help but reply. It’s only across my mind, and it’s quiet, meek.
“All this work? Months of faffing around with land, companies, mortals and you hadn’t expected your bit of stuff to move on? Will one of the other gods please give me strength.”
The tone sends a shiver up my sweaty spine, the disappointment clear.
“We’re soulmates. There’s no one else for me,” I mutter it and I realise how stupid I’ve been. How much of a fool she’s made me.
“You mean to say that you never entertained the idea that she’d want someone else? That she wasn’t completely infatuated with you?”
I smash my hand down hard on the draining board, my palm leaving a dent. The reverberation shivers up my wrist and into my lower arm. I stare at my warped reflection, unable to process what I’ve been through. In disgust, I turn away from the sink, rubbing at my sore joint. Thank goodness I’ve already completed work on my clay workers.
I can’t resist anymore, and I cross to the liquor bottles. I uncork the whisky and down several large glugs. My mind reverberates, the voice louder this time. “You are a prize idiot. It’s bad enough you’ve gone to all this effort for some stupid mortal girl, but this is too much.”
A single tear slips from my eye, and I bat at it before it can make it down my cheek. Once more, I’m lost for words. “Then let me fill the void between your ears for you! You are a misguided buffoon. You’ve wasted time and effort on someone who doesn’t deserve you. Who was never good enough for you. Never deserving.” I heave back a bigger sob. My chest is heavy, my shoulders low. “But it has not all been in vain. You have everything you need to unearth the Rod of Asclepius, and with that, you can have all that your heart desires.”
“Lily?” My heart lifts before I come to my senses. I spot my little clay dog, Wylie, poking its head out from between the fourth and fifth boxes of clay, neither touched. Like my passion for crisps and chocolate, I sometimes over-order. Wylie sniffs, clearly concerned for me but also sensing it might be best to stay clear. He doesn’t want to suffer the same fate as the sink’s metal. I nod at my friend and then return to my unspoken conversation. “But she isn’t sick. She can’t be cured of wanting to be with someone else. Love and desire aren’t illnesses.”
“You really don’t have a clue, do you? The rod is more than just your way into some tart’s knickers—”
“Watch it!” My mind growls back, and clearly, the voice understands it needs to choose its words more wisely.
“He who holds that artefact can cure any illness, injury, or disease. Think of what the mortals will pay for that. You could name your price.”
“That’s ridiculous talk.”
“Really? What Government wouldn’t want to end all their health care needs? Who wouldn’t want to be the leader who cures cancer, drastically improves the quality of life, and saves taxpayers millions? Or better yet, keep it for yourself. The power you would wield would see you revered. You could rule the mortals. Have your way with any of them. Imagine what your family would say then!”
That catches me, and I think of the other gods, my family. Those who mocked and jeered me for liking the mortals. The ones who felt I was a little bit too much, just for being me. It is just a little tempting. Imagine what they would all think if I was suddenly in charge of the planet they play on.
“Then let’s do it. Show everyone who’s boss. Surprise them by showing them how the Great Trickster has outsmarted them all. They toil and slave away with the mortals, never suspecting that you would suddenly take it all away from them. Rule over the simpletons. Think of what they’d say. What you could do to them.”
I straighten slightly, my mind’s eye showing me palaces covered in gold, women at my beck and call, and the other gods grovelling at my feet. As quickly as I conjure it, I know it’s not right. That’s not who I am. Not what I want. How can someone so rebellious ever keep others in order? Who wants that sort of life? Not me.
“I couldn’t cope.”
“You don’t have to. Let us do it for you. Just do as you are told, and we’ll take care of the rest.”
From the safety of a packing crate, Wylie lets out a whimper. He seems to understand I’m wrestling with something big, difficult.
“I’m not that sort of god.”
“Coward. Useless, pathetic piece of immortal shit.”
“Say what you want, but I’m not going to get the world down on its knees. That’s not my style. Not what I’m about.”
“So what now? Are you just going to go back to running your little scams? You are better than that. Despite your faults, you are on the precipice of something amazing. Dig up the rod, unlock its power and everything that comes with it.”
I ease a long breath in through my nose, hold it for a count of ten, and then let it slip through my lips.
“You know there’s only one thing I want.”
“Don’t be dense. Lily doesn’t want you. You’ve seen that with your own eyes. Forget her and embrace this opportunity.”
Just thinking the word makes me fearful, but I don’t have to be. There’s nothing that the voice can do. Yes, it can torment me, scream between my ears, but it can’t do anything else. I’m in control. I’ve come this far, and I’m going to see this through.
I turn my attention to the immobile art behind me, letting the voice yell about how I’ll be sorry, how much I will regret this. I stare at the ten statues, each ready to do my bidding. All it will take is a little bit of me to bring them to life. Soon I will have the rod, cure myself of my inability to speak the truth, confess my undying love for Lily. Then she will see sense, ditch Darren, and be with me. I’ve been right about everything else so far, and this is the same. Just wait and see.