“Mel?” I grabbed my phone. My fingers swiped a quick text message to Thalia, asking her to come and take care of Melly. I watched my empty husk of a sister while I sent a message to another. “Mel, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t think so…” she drifted off again. “Apollo is going to be…busy,” she hissed, a horrifying grin spreading across her vacant face.
“What are you talking about? Stop. You’re seriously freaking me out.”
My sister closed her beautiful eyes and slumped forward, her head hitting the table with a thunk. I shook her shoulder, but she just rotated her face to the side, tiny snores escaping her mouth.
I watched her sleep. The slow rise and fall of her breathing did nothing to reassure me about her current state.
I sent a message to Apollo and asked him to meet me back at my apartment. It felt strange to ask him to come back already, and I wasn’t sure if I was overstepping any boundaries. It also felt weird to be worrying about that.
Thalia arrived with her usual array of odd bags that held practically anything anyone could need at a moment’s notice. We shared a strong hug and spent several minutes getting her up to date on things.
“What’s all this?” Thalia asked, gesturing to the vial-littered counters.
“Not sure, really. I thought it was work, but she does that in the lab for purity purposes. Maybe it’s a new perfume line?”
Thalia picked up a vial, uncapped out and took a sniff. She wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Blech…definitely not perfume. Here, take a whiff. It smells like a junior high locker room.”
“No thanks,” I laughed, shaking my hand at the vial in her outstretched hand. As I did, the smell of stale liquor wafted toward me.
“I don’t know what locker rooms, you’ve been in, but it smells like a frat house on Sunday morning to me.”
She pulled the vial back and smelled again.
“That’s weird. Now it smells like money, and I get a distinct feeling someone tossed handfuls of bills down and rolled in them,” she rubbed her nose. “And now I smell pine trees and the sawdust after they’re cut at Christmas.”
“What in the hell? How can it change?”
We looked at each other and then at our sister.
“What has she done?” Thalia asked.
“I don’t know, but I don’t think she’s safe.”
I gave Thalia a brief description of my dream and the odd Erato memory I had.
“That is bizarre,” Thalia said in a rush of breath. “Is she creating memories?”
“I don’t know. Can you pop her to the Muse realm and leave her with Mom for safekeeping?” I asked. “I think she’s gotten herself into something more than she can handle.”
“No problem,” Thalia said, gathering her things and slinging bags over her arms. “Are you going to be safe?” she asked.
“And by the way, when were you going to tell me about Apollo?” she asked, cocking an eyebrow.
I felt heat rise and reach my cheeks.
“It just happened. Geez. I haven’t even had time to process it, much less tell everyone,” I looked away, fidgeting with a bottle stopper.
“And?” she pried.
“And…” I looked back at her. “I want to enjoy it,” I admitted.
“I’ll bet you are enjoying it,” Thalia said with a snort and then waggled her eyebrows. “But the secret is out, so…”
“What?” she asked, adjusting her bags. “Why do you care who knows?”
Her question struck close to something I didn’t want to admit.
“Out with it, U,” she commanded.
“Ugh. Fine. What if he thinks it was a mistake? What if he changes his mind?” I ask, barely able to force the words out.
It was her turn to groan.
“That is what you’re worried about? Gods, U, he’d be a fool. Give him a little credit,” she shook her head. “I need to go. These bags are killing me.”
With that, Thalia crossed to the sleeping Melpomene and put her arms, laden with bags, around Mel’s back. In a few seconds, there was a faint pop, and my sisters were gone, leaving me alone in the kitchen of vials. I grabbed a box from the floor, put the bottles inside, and tucked the box under my arm. I didn’t know what my sister was up to, but I felt like it shouldn’t be left unattended.
I hurried back to my apartment to wait for Apollo. I gave Dugo a handful of treats along with a good dose of attention before turning to my chore list and washing up the glasses from the night before. Even reminiscing about my night with Apollo made me feel flushed and a little weak in the knees. Gods…what has he done to me? I was so lost in thought that when my phone beeped, it startled me.
The text was from Kamlesh, telling me that he emailed a large file with the Caroline (Soames) Batchalder information that his son discovered on the dark web. “Pour yourself a stiff drink before you read it. You’ll need it,” he concluded.
The doorbell rang, and I jumped up to answer it, a silly grin appearing on my face. I tried to stop smiling, but could not. I felt giddy, like a twelve-year-old girl with her first crush. Ridiculous. Literally, two seconds ago, I was in a completely different mind space. Before opening the door, I tried to adjust my face and not look as twitterpated as I felt. Yeah, good luck with that.
Apollo stood in the foyer, and with just one look at him, all of my will to remain normal dissolved. He wore a pair of black jeans, a black t-shirt, a black pinstriped jacket with the sleeves pushed up and a pair of chunky black glasses, even though his beautiful eyes were completely perfect. I resisted every urge I had to drag him through the door and rip his clothes off. I felt proud that I was able to control myself…for the moment.
I stepped back and picked Dugo up from out of the doorway.
“Hey, buddy,” Apollo said, petting the top of Dugo’s head.
Dugo took him under consideration, and then licked his hand.
I closed the door behind Apollo and tried to keep my heart from pounding so loud I was sure he could hear it. I was so entranced by him, I hadn’t noticed him holding a brown shipping box until he held it out to me. Dugo took a hint and jumped down, circling Apollo’s legs and smelling his shoes.
“This was outside your door. I didn’t want to leave it there,” Apollo said.
“Thanks,” I said, feeling nervous and completely awkward.
I took the box and did not recognize the return address. My mind being what it was lately, I couldn’t even remember ordering anything. Go figure. I set the package on the credenza. In a flash, Apollo stepped behind me and ran his hands down my arms. He turned me around and gave me a slow kiss that left me breathless.
“I’ve been thinking about doing that all day,” he said. “Everything okay?”
“It is now,” I answered honestly. I led him to the couch. We sat together, and I filled him in on the details I knew about my mom and sister and the Muse realm.
“That’s good, right?” he asked.
“Yes. I think they’re safe for now,” I said. “But I’m kind of freaked out about this ‘boyfriend’ of Melly’s. Something sounds off about him.”
“Well, anyone is ‘off’ compared to me,” Apollo joked. “You’re just lucky,” he laughed.
“Obviously,” I said, giving him a nudge with my elbow and then a soft kiss on the lips. ”But that reminds me. Melly said the weirdest thing. She said they couldn’t have dinner with us because you were going to be busy.”
“Maybe she was talking about my insane tour schedule. Or she meant this,” he grinned and shifted me onto his lap. “Because with you, I’m going to be so very busy.”
He slid his hands beneath my shirt and I gasped, his fingers driving me to distraction. I pulled him close and gave him a deep kiss. The passion between us grew like a wildfire. We tugged at each other’s clothes, tossing items aside in a flurry of fabric. I could hear Dugo’s claws skittering across the floor as he tried to dodge the onslaught.
“Bedroom?” Apollo asked between kisses.
“Next time,” I breathed. I wasn’t going to let him off of that couch.
We finally made it to the bedroom a couple of hours later.
The weather outside felt mild so I picked up the remote and slid the roof open.
“That is amazing,” Apollo said.
“I know, right?” I snuggled up to him, the thick comforter keeping us warm. I slid my hand beneath the blanket and down his body.
He tilted his head and looked at me with a smile. “Really?” he asked.
“What? I’m completely innocent,” I said.
“There are people on death row right now who are more innocent,” he answered. “I see that twinkle in those beautiful violet eyes of yours. I know what you’re up to.”
I pulled my hand back. “Oh, I’m sorry. I was just checking to see what you were up to,” I chuckled and scooted away, leaving a few inches of space between our bodies.
“Get back over here,” he growled. “You started it…”
I pounced on him, happy to oblige.
Later, I got out of bed to get us something to drink and to feed poor Dugo, who had been ignored since Apollo’s arrival. I swept up Apollo’s t-shirt and slipped it over my head, smiling at the thought of making him strip it off of me to get it back.
I rattled Dugo’s dish and heard his soft paws padding toward me.
“Hey!” Apollo called from the bedroom. “I think I just saw a shooting star.”
“Aw, man. I miss all of the good stuff. Make a wish for me,” I yelled back.
I placed Dugo’s dish on the floor and gave him a few minutes of love. Plucking two glasses out of the cabinet, I held the stems between my fingers and grabbed a bottle of Dion’s wine.
I set everything on the nightstand before I realized that Apollo wasn’t in bed.
I sat on the edge of the bed and waited. After several minutes, I called out, “Apollo?” Still no answer.
“Ha, ha.” I said. “Very funny. Isn’t it a little late to be playing hide-n-seek?”
I walked into the living room. His clothes were still scattered on the floor, but I didn’t see him anywhere. I checked the guest rooms, the office, and the other bathroom. They were all empty.
“Okay. Now it isn’t funny. If you’re trying to scare me, that’s just mean.”
Did he just change his mind about me and leave? Oh, gods…that would be devastating. Suddenly it felt familiar. Like when Adrian deserted me in the gallery.
Stop. He’s not Adrian. And he’s naked. It doesn’t even make sense.
But it did feel familiar.
Oh gods, no.
I visually checked the door. Both the knob and the deadbolt were locked, so he couldn’t have left.
Fear gripped my chest and squeezed. I couldn’t breathe.
I remembered Melly saying that Apollo would be busy. I remembered her scary, vacant-eyed grin as she said it. I remembered my dream and feeling like something bad was about to happen.
I sunk into a chair, tears rolling out of my eyes, sobs racking my body.
He was gone.