Everyone felt his presence from the moment he walked through the door of the pizza parlor. He moved with the liquid grace of a panther, slowly making his way down the rows of uncomfortable plastic benches lining the restaurant’s walls. He was tall and well built, with midnight hair and eyes like blue ice. He left a chill in his wake that made the boys’ eyes narrow with suspicion and the girls’ breath catch in their throats, but he paid them no mind. He already knew what he was looking for.
She was standing at the counter, waiting for her order, with her back to him. She, too, had felt him, but she didn’t bother to turn around. He wouldn’t have expected her to. She wasn’t the kind of person to believe she would be the one he wanted. It was that very innocence and modesty he craved. Another had already broken her, making her all the more vulnerable to him, and he intended to exploit that. The short line parted with an awed silence as he approached. His whole body tingled with anticipation. She tensed when she realized he was standing right behind her. He leaned forward as she spun around to face him, placing his hands on the counter on either side of her, enveloping her. Her breath caught in her throat as she slowly raised her eyes, brown reflecting in blue. He swept back her dark hair and placed his lips a breadth away from her throat, inhaling her scent down the length of her neck and reveling in the goose bumps that patterned the delicate skin wherever his lips moved. He knew that she wanted to push him away, just as assuredly as he knew that she would not.
He pressed his body closer to hers, relishing the way their forms fit together, her breasts pressed snugly in his chest and her hips latched firmly against his. He cupped the base of her head in his hands, tilting her into the perfect position, and then captured her mouth with his own. He could feel her heart fluttering in her chest, but her mouth opened to him, inviting him, and he took the invitation. She wouldn’t resist him; she couldn’t resist him. His body tensed with energy from the kiss, pinning her closer, needing more, taking more. The world swirled into oblivion around them, rendered mute by his passion.
But then, her palm wormed its way between them and, with a sudden, forceful push, propelled him backwards, and the spell was broken. Her friends rushed to her side, circling her like a flock of agitated birds chattering nonsensical words at him. She stared at him, eyes wide, fingers to her lips. Then she was gone, swept away from his reach, carried away by her flock. He suppressed his budding feelings of frustration. It didn’t matter; she was his now. He collected himself and then turned and left the restaurant. Events had been set in motion that no one could stop.
* * * * *
“Meryl, are you okay?” Kayla gasped, propelling her into a plastic booth. “Who the hell was that?”
Meryl was still in shock. The world had concaved around her and all of the noise in the pizza parlor was just a dull buzzing in her ears. His kiss had been… what had it been? Magnetic, thrilling, frightening… It scared her. Who was he? She could feel him lingering on her, in her hair, on her lips, over her skin. She suddenly felt exhausted.
“Meryl!” Kayla was snapping her fingers. “Jesus. I hope he didn’t give you anything.”
“Nobody that fine can have an STD.” Crystal clucked from across the booth. She fanned herself. “Why doesn’t that ever happen to me?”
“I wonder who he was.” Meryl breathed to herself, ignoring her friends’ banter. “I’ve never seen him before.”
“Does it matter?” Kayla barked. “How dare he think you’re the kind of girl he can just walk up to and kiss?” Meryl knew she wasn’t that kind of girl, but she also knew that he wasn’t the kind of boy that just went around kissing that kind of girl. He was different. She stared down at her hands. She felt different. She was different.
Aiden slid into the booth across from her, disrupting her thoughts.
“Are you okay, Meryl?” he asked, annoyance crowding out the concern he was trying to project.
“Why do you care?” Kayla snapped, overriding Meryl before she could answer. Kayla was one of the those mother bear friends, fiercely protective of her bear cubs, and, after spending the better part of last year wiping Meryl’s tears over Aiden, she had no intention of allowing a relapse. Aiden shot her a dirty look, but focused on Meryl.
“Seriously, are you okay?” He wasn’t a bad person. He was just a greedy person, the kind who made you feel like you were his entire world until you reciprocated and then he claimed you were too emotionally attached for the casual relationship he wanted. But that was many months ago and, despite having not been with anyone since him, Meryl had allowed Aiden to strike up the beginnings of a tentative friendship with her, despite Kayla’s obvious disapproval.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Meryl said, smiling at Aiden as Kayla let out an audible groan and slid out of the booth, dragging Crystal with her. She felt strangely secretive of her very public encounter with the mysterious, enticing stranger.
“Did you know that guy?” Aiden demanded, his eyebrow raised. Meryl resisted the urge to wonder why he cared. She knew he was doing his customary relapse after witnessing another male’s interest in her and that within the next few hours would completely forget.
“No, nobody does.”
Aiden was silent for a moment, regarding Meryl, who was determinedly avoiding his gaze. Sometimes being alone with him reminded her of how things used to be, and it threatened to send her back down the rabbit hole, something she didn’t have time to risk with graduation looming so close on the horizon.
“I’ll walk you back to the dorm.” Aiden decided, more to himself than to her. He overrode Meryl’s protests with simple logic. There were obviously creeps skulking around, it was late, and they lived in the same building. Meryl hated to admit it, but, no matter what Aiden had done in the past, he was still the only guy that she felt truly safe with.
As they walked, Meryl watched him from the corner of her eyes, admiring his strong profile, the confidence in his movements, and the ease of his smile. She knew she was torturing herself, almost relishing the pain in her gut she felt every time she saw him and knew he would never be hers, but she didn’t want to look away. These moments together were so rare now, especially ever since she had confessed the true depth of her feelings to him and he had awkwardly suggested that they cool off their friendship for a while until she got her feelings under control.
They had just reached the entrance to their dorm when Meryl felt it: It was like a swift chill that hit her chest and spread outward, rapidly consuming her body. She felt, rather than knew, that it was the mysterious stranger. He was there. As soon as she thought it, the chill became warm, her entire body tingling with anticipation. Where was he? Almost mechanically, Meryl turned away from the door Aiden was holding for her, imperceptibly searching the patterned darkness for him. She was nothing but a pair of eyes, scouring the night in search of the source of the sensations wracking her body, but she couldn’t see him. Aiden’s voice cut into her trance,
“What are you doing?”
Meryl shook herself and hurried indoors, avoiding Aiden’s confused face as he turned to stare where she had been looking.
“He must have really freaked you out.”
“You have no idea.” Meryl muttered, holding her student ID card for the proctor to swipe. She must be crazy, falling for a boy just because he kissed her. She’d been kissed before, she’d been kissed better, but this felt different. She felt like her body wasn’t her own, like it belonged to someone else. Like it belonged to him.
Aiden pressed their respective floor buttons on the elevator and she watched him, wondering what he would do if she kissed him like the mysterious stranger had kissed her. And then, it was as if she moved without even thinking about it, because, suddenly, she was standing in front of him, staring up into his dark brown eyes, and sliding her hand around the back of his neck. He kissed her back, almost out of habit, their lips moving against one another with a beautiful familiarity that made her want to cry. Aiden pushed any thought or feelings of the mysterious stranger out of her head and she clung to him, wrapping both arms around his neck. This was what she wanted, just this, only this.
He slid his hands up her arms, grasping her wrists and disentangling her from him, gently setting her back, away from him. She stared up at him, eyes shiny with unshed tears and he sighed, more frustrated than regretful, as the elevator doors opened on his floor.
“I told you, we couldn’t do this, Mer.” He walked out of the elevator, stopping and turning back to her once he was a safe distance away. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You won’t!” She said, hating the way her voice quavered as she slammed her hand on the elevator opening, preventing the doors from closing. He sighed again and looked at her, pity filling his eyes.
“Look at yourself, Meryl. You didn’t use to be this way. I told you not to fall in love with me.” Aiden turned and started walking down the hallway.
“Don’t walk away!” Meryl cried, the traitorous tears sliding down her cheeks. “Please don’t walk away.”
Aiden paused briefly, not even turning back.
“Go home, Meryl. Don’t ruin our friendship because you’re drunk and you miss me. It’s not worth it.”
* * * * *
Meryl was walking back from class on a strangely humid, fall day when he appeared next, leaning casually in the doorway of her building, waiting for her. He had waited awhile, concerned by her unusual attachment to the boy who had broken her, but it hadn’t manifested into anything relevant in his absence. He was pleased by the way she froze when she saw him. Even though she didn’t realize it yet, her body already craved him.
It had been almost two weeks since Meryl had last encountered him, but every sensation she thought had faded away came flooding back. He left his post and approached her slowly, like a lion circling its prey. He was close, too close for comfort, but she was powerless to say anything against it. He gently fisted a handful of her hair and breathed deeply into it, sending shivers down her spine.
“You smell like vanilla.” He breathed into her ear. His voice was perfect for his face, deep and throaty. He pulled her firmly into the circle of his embrace, tilting her face toward his, and all she could think was: This is crazy. But, then he captured her mouth with his own and her mind exploded with thoughts of him, just him, and she clung to him, oblivious of anything else around her. When he finally released her, she stumbled forward, back into his arms, overcome. She registered the strange flush that was quickly receding from his cheeks before she fainted.
“Who the hell are you?” Aiden stormed over, as the stranger scooped Meryl up into his arms, holding her bridal style. “What are you doing?” What am I doing? Aiden hadn’t been able to stop himself from interrupting the exchange, and really wasn’t sure if he was mad at seeing Meryl faint into the arms of the stranger who had kissed her a fortnight ago, or mad that he couldn’t seem to shake the compulsion to help her, no matter how hard he tried to extricate himself from her life. He growled to himself as he confronted the situation in front of him. It was too late to walk away now.
“I’m Jarrett.” The stranger said easily, holding Meryl as if she weighed no more than a teddy bear. “Meryl fainted.”
“I know she fainted.” Aiden snapped. “What did you do to her?”
“I didn’t do anything to her.” Jarrett chuckled, amused. “She just fainted.” It was actually comical to watch the mortal struggle with his internal feelings, especially now that Jarrett was sure he posed no serious threat to his conquest.
“Give her to me.” Aiden demanded, and Jarrett cooperatively handed Meryl’s unconscious form over to Aiden, who had significantly more difficulty carrying her. Aiden scowled as he shifted Meryl into a more comfortable position for himself.
“Listen, here-“ he began, but Jarrett cut him off.
“I appreciate you being the overly protective friend and all, but, trust me, she has nothing to fear from me.” He smiled and moved to tenderly touch Meryl’s cheek, but Aiden scowled even harder and shifted her out of Jarrett’s reach. Jarrett chuckled again and then walked away. His body was teeming with an overflow of energy from the kiss. But, she should not have fainted yet. Something wasn’t right.
“What a douche.” Aiden muttered under his breath, watching Jarrett walk away as he hoisted Meryl up. He was annoyed at the look the proctor gave him as he signed them both into the dorm, he was annoyed that he couldn’t put her in her own room, and he was annoyed that he was spending time taking care of her. He didn’t want to be in her business, but it always seemed to happen.
He brought her to his own room and laid her gently on his bed. The pallor of her skin, as well as her interest in Jarrett bothered him, but he would never say so. As he waited for her to revive, the color slowly coming back into her cheeks, he played a distracted game of 2k, notching his lowest score yet. He wasn’t sure how to explain what had transpired when she woke up. What was he supposed to say? You fainted after kissing that ass who accosted you last weekend so I took you to my room? Meryl was already uncomfortably enamored of him, and despite his best efforts, seemed determined to remain so. This was would probably only add to her attachment. Yeah, he wanted to be friends, but she had this bad habit of taking every little thing he did for her as a sign that he wanted to be with her again. Somewhere between the first and second halves of his Heat vs. Cavaliers match, Aiden decided it would be best if he weren’t there when she awoke and went to the gym.
When Meryl awoke forty-five minutes later, she had trouble recalling why she had fainted, and, when she did, was supremely confused to find herself alone in Aiden’s bedroom. A flood of memories from their past relationship cascaded over her, and she was suddenly overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, loss, and regret. For a brief moment, bathed in darkness and alone in the room of the one who held her heart, Meryl allowed the tears to trickle down her face. None of it made any sense to her. He didn’t want her, but he was still around. He was still attracted to her, but didn’t want to be with her. He took care of her and was there when she needed him, but, other than that, acted as though he didn’t want to involved with her life. She collected herself, composed her face, and left. She would no longer play Aiden’s games.
The following weekend brought a new event to campus: someone was hosting a full-building apartment party, utilizing all six floors. Meryl knew, somehow without even knowing, that it was the strange, enticing man calling to her.
“Omigod, we have to go!” Kayla trilled, bursting into Meryl’s bedroom, one of four in the suite they shared. She thrust the glossy flyer in Meryl’s face. “It’s six levels of drinking games and challenges, and you have to pass each level to move up a floor and get to the dance party on the top floor!” Meryl felt a tiny jolt of excitement as she took the flyer. It was so basic, black with white font, detailing a ten-dollar entrance fee and a background of an apartment complex.
“Who’s throwing it?” she asked, even though she knew the answer.
“Does it matter?” Kayla rolled her eyes. “Parties like this never happen! We have to go.”
They skipped their customary pregame that night because Kayla determined that their low-tolerances would prevent them from lasting to the sixth floor if they imbibed alcohol prior to the event, and arrived outside of the apartment when the party was already in full swing.
Before Meryl could open the door, it swung open and he was standing there, shrouded in darkness and backlit with an iridescent yellow light.
“I knew you would come.” he said, as her friends let out audible gasps. “Party’s on me, ladies. Come in and enjoy yourselves.” He stood back to allow them entrance. Kayla and Crystal pushed into the party past Meryl, darting awed glances at him as they passed. He grasped Meryl’s hand firmly in his, lifting it gently to allow his lips to caress the back of her hand. The electricity between their skin was palpable, and her breath caught in her throat. “Come and find me when you reach the top.” He turned to disappear into the crowd and Meryl found her voice.
“Wait!’ she called after him, “ What’s-”
He cut her off, turning back with a seductive wink.
“It’s Jarrett.” And then he was gone.
Kayla and Crystal reappeared on either side of her.
“You hit the jackpot on that one.” Crystal said, fanning herself. “I told you, if I got kissed by someone randomly, he would be a creep and would have stalked me. But you, baby girl, you get these fly ass boys who make all the girls swoon.”
“Shut up.” Meryl laughed, still watching the spot where Jarrett had disappeared. “What’s the challenge on this level? We gotta collect us some glow bracelets!”
“Oh, right.” Kayla purred. “You need to get to the top floor quick, don’t you?”
Meryl laughed and shoved her into the throng.
The night went as well as anyone could have hoped, maybe even better. There were bouncers at every stairwell preventing party-goers from going by unless adorned with the appropriate colored glow bracelets: red for one, orange for two, yellow for three, green for four, and blue for five. The challenges ranged from beer pong and flip cup to Twister and darts.
“Hey, Mer.” Aiden drunkenly slid his arm around her shoulders, pulling her roughly into his embrace. “Where you been, girl?”
“Don’t touch her.” Kayla said, rolling her eyes and pulling Meryl out from under Aiden’s arm. “Go flirt with someone else.”
“It ain’t even like that, right, Mer?” he chuckled, tugging her back to him. Meryl went willingly. Her body wanted to be with him just as much as her heart did, no matter how infuriated it made her brain. Kayla’s eyes narrowed and her mouth opened, but Meryl glared at her, staving off the oncoming diatribe. She knew she was asking for it, that he would break her heart, but she couldn’t ignore the hope that was making her heart pound in her chest. Crystal intercepted Kayla’s infuriated reaction and dragged her away to the flip cup games.
“Your friends really need to relax.” Aiden muttered, shaking his head at them. He spun Meryl around and slammed her into his muscular chest in a bear hug.
“Ow!” She said, leaning back and rubbing her own chest. She couldn’t help but smile. She really did love his corny way of flirting.
“That didn’t hurt.” Aiden grinned, chucking her lightly under her chin. “Your boobs aren’t big enough for this to hurt.” He slammed her into his chest again. Meryl pushed at him, torn between annoyance and pleasure.
“Well, it’s a good thing for you that they’re not big, anyways.”
“Why’s that?” he asked, twirling a strand of her hand around his finger.
“Because you would never have let me go if they were.” she answered, her voice barely above a whisper as she carefully watched his reaction. Aiden was silent for a moment, regarding her, and then he smiled slightly, letting go of her waist.
“You’re right. Because then we would be together forever and would never get to experience college.” He backed up quickly, looking shocked at himself. Meryl’s mouth was open. It was strange, but she knew that he was actually serious, mostly because of how uncomfortable he looked. Aiden spun around and disappeared into the crowd, leaving Meryl standing there. She remembered why she had spent all of this time waiting for him. How can you give up on something that could actually be real one day?
It was almost 2 am when Meryl and her friends finally received their blue glow bracelets. Crystal had a tough time staying upright during a particularly inebriated round of Twister and Meryl was reminded of her inability to maintain accurate hand-eye coordination with every beer she consumed.
The sixth floor was a veritable mass of potent, sexual energy, teeming with sweaty, dancing bodies and pulsating with reverberating beats. The three girls flung themselves into the melee, dancing and screaming. Meryl spun in a circle, arms outstretched, and crashed into Aiden. He was heading toward the door.
“Where are you going?” she called, instinctively grabbing his arm. She wanted to dance with him. He grabbed her wrists and spun her around, eyes glazed. He was probably even drunker than before.
“Gotta go meet up with my friend!”
She stopped spinning, her heart frozen in her chest. He was meeting a girl. He had to be meeting a girl. Her ears felt hot and the whole room went silent as she stared at him.
“A friend? It’s 2 am.” she tried to laugh it off, hoping he was drunk enough to tell her what she was straining to find out. He should be going home with her, not some other girl. Aiden roughly grabbed her chin in his hand, kissed her on the mouth, and then disappeared into the throng. She gasped, too stunned to follow him, hand over her mouth.
“I know that boy did not just kiss you!” Crystal screeched, appearing at Meryl’s side, staring after Aiden. She shook Meryl’s shoulder. “Go get him, girl!”
Meryl shook her head, a lump in her throat, and grabbed Crystal’s wrists, spinning her into a dance. He had kissed her, and then gone to make love to someone else. She couldn’t breathe. She wanted to forget. She wanted… Where was Jarrett?
No sooner had she thought it then he appeared, immediately, by her side, the pulsing lights giving his face an almost inhuman quality. He smiled at her, and it struck her how hungry his eyes looked as they bore into hers, his grin bared into more of a grimace. She suddenly felt frightened and took a step back, but he was swift and sure in his movements, taking her waist and swirling her around.
Meryl closed her eyes and let sensation take over thought, surrendering her body to the music and his touch, letting herself be whirled around and around and around until, suddenly, there was silence. Meryl fluttered her eyes open and the darkness pressed in, all around her, suffocating her, and she had to steady herself, dizzy from the alcohol and exertion. Was she alone?
“No.” His voice, somewhere behind her, was as throaty and deep as she remembered it, and she felt his chill. “You are not alone.”
She felt his hands skim lightly up her arms, easing her backwards into his chest. She could drown in him. She felt his lips on her neck, his teeth grazing her soft flesh and she stiffened, remembering the gleam in his eyes and the flash of his teeth.
“Take me back to my friends.” she whispered. She was starting to feel light-headed… Too light-headed. “Please.”
“No.” He breathed into her neck, his hands closing around the fastening at the top of her jeans. “Not this time.” He had waited long enough, and her obsession with the mortal was getting tiresome, despite it being the very thing that had brought Jarrett to her. Once this was done, she would be his forever. In one swift motion, he wrenched her pants down around her ankles and she gasped, stumbling, but he caught her. He was lifting her, swinging her, and then she was falling and falling, colors flashing in her eyes. With a gentle thump, her body fell into softness… A mattress.
Meryl moved to get up, but he was on top of her, holding her, and covering her. When had he undressed? The feel of his bare skin on hers sent waves of electricity trickling through her body. Where was her shirt? He was everywhere, his hands, his mouth, his thighs, his cock. He was everywhere, and she could only feel. No strength to move, no strength to speak, no strength to think, only to be. Her body wasn’t her own; it acted on impulse. Her hands fisted in his hair, her legs spread, and her eyes closed. The waves of sensation carried her, one after another, over and over until she could take no more, but it never ended. His hands held her, tightened, her back arched, her fingers splayed, and she screamed a scream silenced by a kiss.
He smiled as he watched her unconscious form on the bed. It was done. She was either his, forever, or no one’s.
* * * * *
She awoke, sweat-drenched and shivering, in her own bed. Her head was throbbing, her mind jumbled. She stumbled out of bed and gaped at herself in the mirror. Deep purple circles stood out on her pale face, directly underneath her eyes. She looked like death. Literally. She even had the faint outlines of purpling bruises patterning up her arms and down her legs. She was tired, so tired. What happened?
There was a timid knock on the door.
“Meryl?” Crystal’s soft voice called out tentatively through the door and Meryl looked up in confusion. Crystal never knocked.
“Um, no, that’s okay.” Crystal said timidly through the door. “I was just making sure you were awake for class like you asked me to. I’ll see you later.”
“Crystal, wait!” Meryl rushed to open the door, but Crystal was already gone, the front door shutting behind her with a loud click. Time for class? It was Monday already? In a haze, Meryl dragged on sweats to cover her bruised arms and a baseball cap to tame her unruly hair.
As she walked through campus, she noticed an odd aura in the air. Why was everyone staring? Sweatpants weren’t that unusual. She shook off her feelings of unease and hurried into her morning class, only a few minutes late. The entire class went silent as she entered and she faltered uneasily.
“Sorry, I’m late?”
Professor Stevens walked rapidly over to her, a glare creasing his normally pleasant countenance.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, anger reverberating in his voice.
“Um… Class?” Meryl said uncertainly, looking around.
“You’re no longer in this class.” he said stiffly, folding his arms across his chest. “As of two weeks ago.” She blinked at him in shock.
“Two weeks ago? Is this some kind of j-”she stopped in the middle of her sentence, an eerie flashback flickering in her mind. She was standing there, in this exact place, angry, furious, and swearing. She threw a chair and smashed the TA in the face. There was blood everywhere… So much blood.
Meryl gasped and stumbled backwards.
“Oh, my god. I’m sorry! I have to go!” She turned and fled, dialing Kayla’s number. There was no answer, so she left a frantic message. “Kayla, it’s Meryl. You gotta call me back. Something really fucked is happening to me, and I don’t know what’s going on. Last thing I remember is that stupid apartment party, which I thought was a couple days ago, but now I’m getting these weird flashbacks of things I don’t remember, and I know this sounds crazy, but I think I lost two weeks and I’m scared and I need-”
A cold chill broke through her concentration and she stopped, spinning around. Jarrett was standing across the quad, not fifty feet from her, and, suddenly Meryl realized how drained, exhausted, and worn out she felt. He was pulling her, he would save her; she just needed to get to him. She didn’t know how she reached him, but suddenly she was in his arms and she knew everything was going to be okay.
“Where have you been hiding?” He chuckled devilishly at her as she clung to him, completely unabashed. “You ran off yesterday.”
Meryl didn’t answer, just buried her head in his chest. He tenderly removed her baseball cap, allowing her hair to spill down her back.
“I guess it doesn’t really matter. You came back… They always do.” He tilted her chin so she was looking at him. “For life.” He lowered his lips onto hers and she felt the rush, so powerful she thought it would sweep her off her feet. She would never let go. But, then, as the floodgates lifted and the energy came rushing in, so did the memories.
Meryl shoved against Jarrett’s chest, staggering away from him, clutching her head. The weeks were coming back. She was screaming at her friends, slamming people against walls, stealing, hurting, breaking. Crystal was crying, Kayla was yelling, Aiden was disgusted, and Jarrett was watching. She was horrified. She took her hands away from her face and gasped at her arms. The bruises were fading away, giving way to clear, supple skin.
“What did you do to me?”
“I didn’t do anything to you. You did it to yourself.” Jarrett was emotionless as he approached her.
“What are you talking about?” Meryl whispered, wrapping her arms protectively around herself.
“You know what I’m talking about. You called for me, you came to me willingly. You knew what I was, but you gave yourself to me, anyway.”
Meryl gaped at him, stunned.
“What? No, I did not! I don’t even know who-”
“Stop it. You knew it from the moment I kissed you all those weeks ago.”
“Knew what?” Meryl snapped, getting angry. “You literally sound insane right now.”
“There you go.” Jarrett beamed at her. “You’re getting some of your feistiness back.” He turned and sat down on the bench next to them, patting the spot next to him. She ignored it and he grinned, rolling his eyes. “Look, it’s simple. You were broken and you wanted an escape. My touch can kill, sure, but for a broken soul, it can do wondrous things. I made you whole.”
“I wasn’t broken!” Meryl spat, crossing her arms over her chest. “I was fine!”
Jarrett shrugged again.
“Call it whatever you wanna call it. Your soul was literally shattered after what he did to you. I wouldn’t have come if you hadn’t called.”
Meryl gaped at him again. What he did to me? She unconsciously rubbed her hand over her chest in the exact place she had felt the ache every time she thought of Aiden. She braced herself for the torrent of emotions that always overwhelmed her, but nothing happened. It was like he was gone. Jarrett was watching her, waiting. Meryl dropped her hand and cleared her throat. She barely knew what to think, or how to feel.
“What are you?” She asked, sinking onto the bench next to him.
“What isn’t really important.” Jarrett said, reaching out to cup her face. “The point is that you are mine now, and as long as we’re together, no one can ever break you again.”
Meryl shied away from him, avoiding his outstretched hand.
“But, I don’t want to be with you.” She slid down the bench, further away from him. “I don’t even know you.”
“You have the rest of your life for that.” Jarrett said calmly, unperturbed by her reaction.
“No.” Meryl said firmly, getting annoyed. “Thank you for whatever it is you did, or whatever, but, look, I have my own life. You can’t come into it, announce that you made me whole, or whatever, and then decide that we’re together. It doesn’t work like that, love doesn’t work like that.”
“Who said anything about love?” Jarrett laughed mirthlessly and the deadness of the sound sent chills down Meryl’s spine. “The spirit doesn’t need love.” He smiled in what should have been a comforting gesture, but turned into more of a grimace. “You have no more need for it. I filled those holes for you.”
A sudden wave of exhaustion swept over Meryl and she sagged against the back of the bench.
“I don’t even know why we’re talking about this.” She mumbled wearily, her eyelashes fluttering. “You don’t own me, or anything.” She chuckled weakly to herself.
“As humorous as you find that statement, it is ironic how untrue it is.” Jarrett smiled darkly. “My kiss is barely enough to revive you as is. You are mine now, whether you like it or not.”
“Oh, yeah?” Meryl’s sudden exhaustion was threatening to break her resolve and she felt the slivers of doubt begin to penetrate her brain. She did know something wasn’t right with him. She had always known something wasn’t right with him, from the moment he appeared in the pizza parlor.
“Yeah.” He chuckled. “For the ones that I choose, the ones that are broken, my touch claims them. It sinks into their very beings, filling the holes that are there. I made you new, perfect, and you will live by my side.” He stood up from the bench and Meryl had to strain to lift her head to follow him. It just felt so heavy, so very heavy. “I have given you a great gift, Meryl, and you would do well to recognize it. You are already succumbing to the effects of the absence of my touch and, trust me, it will consume you eventually.”
“I feel like I’m dy-”
“Dying?” Jarrett finished Meryl’s quiet statement for her. “Yes.” He leaned down and brushed a gentle kiss across her forehead. His lips left an icy imprint that burned into her skin and Meryl’s eyes widened at the rush of energy that flooded her body from his kiss. He smiled, straightening up. “There, you see? I’ll give you some time to consider my offer.”
“What exactly is your offer?” Meryl asked, straightening up on the bench, emboldened by her newfound energy. Jarrett raised an eyebrow as he regarded her.
“I thought I made that clear: me, or death.” He bared his teeth in a grimace that made Meryl draw back against the bench. “I think, deep down, you know that I am not joking.” He turned and began walking away. “When you’re ready, just say my true name out loud.”
“What’s your true name?” Meryl asked, her voice barely above a whisper. He didn’t hear her. He couldn’t have heard her, but the answer came, swirling around her head as if carried by the wind. Lilu.
* * * * *
“I really appreciate you helping me with this.” Meryl hadn’t realized how freeing it would be to be around Aiden and not love him. The care that she felt for him as a person, and the love she had for him as a friend was still there, but all of the pain, longing, and heartbreak was gone. She hadn’t even realized how obvious her constant infatuation with him was until she had requested his help and he had been so taken aback by her new attitude.
“Yeah, no problem.” Aiden said distractedly, focused on the webpage he was reading. Meryl had gotten too exhausted to navigate the Internet on her own and was relegated to lying back on her bed while he sat at her desk, using her laptop. “Is this shit actually real?” He demanded, turning to look back at her. His face paled immediately. “You look terrible.”
Meryl shrugged wearily, the effort of moving her shoulders expending more energy than she realized.
“That’s what your supposed to tell me.” The words felt heavy on her tongue and she had to strain to get them out. “Is it true?”
Aiden bit his lip, concern clouding his face, but he turned back to the computer.
“Lilu is a demon that disturbs and seduces women in their sleep.” He read out loud, his voice tight. “Religious tradition holds that repeated intercourse with an incubus or succubus may result in the deterioration of health, or even death.” Aiden sat back in his chair, stunned. “So that guy, Jarrett, told you that this was what he was?”
“Not in so many words.” Meryl whispered, her eyes beginning to flutter shut. The fear tightening her chest as he read the words was making her more tired, if that was even possible.
“This is some serious shit, Mer.” Aiden got up from the desk, carrying the laptop and came to sit next to her on the bed. “You should see yourself. What do you want to do?”
“He said to, to…” Meryl was struggling to move her lips. “To call him, and, and he would save me.”
“You mean make you his consort and then have some sort of demon babies with you? I don’t think so.” Aiden focused back on the screen. He had this awful feeling in his gut and needed something to take his mind off of it. She couldn’t really be dying, could she? He stared down at her face, pale and sickly, and knew the answer. He scrolled down the webpage, looking for answers, and his eyes fell on a passage that made his heart stop.
While the incubus can prey on any mortal in order to recharge its demonic essence, those most susceptible to its seduction are human females with broken souls, usually begotten from an all-consuming broken heart.
Aiden sat back against the headboard, stunned. It couldn’t be, a broken heart? He had broken her- Aiden jumped off the bed, pacing back and forth across the room, refusing to let the thought enter his mind. It was crazy. Of course it wasn’t him. It had to be someone else. Even as the thought popped into his head he knew he was being foolish. Of course it wasn’t someone else.
“Meryl.” Aiden said firmly. She didn’t respond. Fear tightening his chest, he stalked over to her bedside. “Meryl!” She was barely conscious, but he could see her lips moving, straining to work. He bent over her, ear turned toward her, and he heard it. It breathed out of her like a sigh and hung in the air between them.
The word had barely time to dissipate into the air when the knock on the door came. Aiden looked down at Meryl, watching the slow rise and fall of her chest. It was so wrong, but it wasn’t like there was anything else he could do about it. She needed something that he couldn’t give.
“I don’t agree with this.” Aiden said softly before turning and walking into the living room. He didn’t even know if she could hear him anymore. Jarrett was leaning casually on the doorframe when Aiden opened it.
“Where’s my girl?”
“In here.” Aiden said, his voice dead, standing back to let him in. “I know what you are, you know.”
Jarrett glanced back at him, unconcerned, as he made his way toward Meryl’s bedroom.
“Good, then you know that this is the way it has to be.”
“Just tell me something.” Aiden said, his eyes dark. Jarrett paused in the doorway of Meryl’s room. It wasn’t like he cared about how the mortal felt, but something compelled him to answer honestly.
“No, it wasn’t your fault.” Jarrett turned and looked pityingly at the still form lying on the bed. “It was because of you, but it wasn’t your fault. She chose to let you break her. She could’ve been stronger for herself.”
“I didn’t mean for-” Aiden’s voice caught in his throat and he choked in the middle of his sentence. Jarrett briskly cut him off,
“It doesn’t matter now. There’s nothing left for you to do.”
“She doesn’t want this.” Aiden said, his voice stronger. He took a step forward, toward Jarrett. Jarrett sneered and then shut the door in Aiden’s face. That was getting tedious.
He turned to face Meryl on the bed, shrugging out of his coat. He honestly had half a mind to let her waste away, as punishment. No one had ever walked out on him before; they always called for him when their senses went. But this one… This one was special. He could feel it.
He sat next to her on the bed and meticulously began removing his clothes, smirking to himself as he took his time. She would remember every ache and pain after her revival, and he intended to make it last as long as possible to ensure she didn’t step out of line again. He pulled back the covers, revealing her emaciated body, shrouded in shorts and shirt that were many sizes too big. He took great care with her limbs as he removed her clothing, but then paused, realizing that she was actually gone. There was no heartbeat.
He sat there for a minute, staring down at the girl he had chosen, wondering how he should feel. It was hard to remember how to feel. He thought he was annoyed. Why had she been so stubborn? But, then, he realized he was intrigued. He had never attempted to revive one of his girls after they had died. It could be possible, but what would the outcome be?
“First thing’s first.” he whispered, sliding down into the big spoon position and pulling her body against his chest. For a full two minutes, there was nothing. But, then, just when he was about to give up, Meryl let out a soft sigh. His whole body tensed with excitement as he felt her skin warm, drawing his energy out of him, and into her.
Agony and ecstasy, all at the same time. A cold wildfire had been ignited in Meryl’s chest and was spreading rapidly down her entire body. Her limbs loosened and her muscles tightened as he trailed feather kisses down the nape of her neck. Her back arched as his hands slid roughly down her front to her most private area.
“That’s my girl.” He whispered, stroking her gently as she writhed against him. “Come back to me.” It felt like a thousand fire bursts were exploding all over her body and trickling warm rain everywhere they hit. It was life, rushing through her body, filling her, sustaining her. She didn’t even want to open her eyes; she just wanted to exist, here, now, forever. He was stroking her faster now, urging her hips to move with him and she obliged; she couldn’t be any other way than how he wanted her. In one swift motion, he hooked her leg up and entered her, pinning her to him as she uttered a soft cry. This was rapture, pure, unadulterated rapture. The waves were starting, building as they moved together, rocking her to the brink and then dragging her back, over and over again. She wanted to scream, but she couldn’t make a sound. She fisted the sheets, clenching the pillow in her mouth, still moving with him. It was harder now, more forceful, his fingertips digging into her soft, newly supple flesh, but she couldn’t stop. She could never stop, for as long as she lived. The waves were coming harder and faster now, crashing over her head, threatening to drown her, over and over and over again.
But, then, he was ripped away, snatched from her body, and cold air swept into the space his warm form had left, chilling her. There was a loud thud from behind her, and then a smaller, duller thud. Meryl sat up from the bed, in a daze and holding the sheet to herself. Aiden was standing over Jarrett, breathing hard. Meryl blinked, and then gasped as she registered the large kitchen knife protruding out of Jarrett’s chest. It seemed fake to her, only the glitter of metal attached to the shaft proving that it was actually embedded in his chest.
Jarrett was staring at the knife in shock, but then he laughed, deep and throaty.
“You are such a fool.”
“You are no one’s slave.” Aiden said, his voice heavy with emotion as he turned to Meryl. “We’ll find some other way to save you, but it won’t be like this.”
“You can’t kill me.” Jarrett sneered, yanking the knife out of his chest. He held it in front of him, between his thumb and forefinger, lip curled with disdain. Aiden fearfully backed away from Jarrett, reaching toward Meryl.
“You can’t have her.” He said, he voice barely above a whisper. Meryl stared at Aiden. Her mind was a complete mess, but her body was, wait… It was amazing. She sat up in the bed, suddenly distracted. She felt strong, so strong. She could do anything. She flexed her hands staring down at them. They were perfect. Ignoring the two guys who were watching her in the midst of their confrontation, Meryl slid out of the bed and padded quickly to the mirror hanging on her wall. She stared at her reflection, fascinated, and then reached a tentative hand up to touch her face. It was still her, but it was her the way she had always imagined herself in her dreams. Perfect skin, perfect hair, perfect nose, perfect teeth. Perfect.
Jarrett’s low, triumphant chuckle brought her back to the present and she spun around, clutching the sheet closer to her body.
“I had no idea what bringing you back from the dead would do.” Jarrett shook his head in wonderment. “You are absolutely wondrous, my Lilith.”
Meryl heard the name in her head and she knew, somehow without really knowing, that it was her name.
“Lilith.” She breathed, tasting it on her tongue. Yes, that was right.
Aiden moved suddenly, backing further away from Jarrett and closer to her. She focused on him. Even her eyesight was sharper. She felt like could see literally every flaw in his being, right down to his very core. Jarrett was still talking, but she ignored him. Aiden was fascinating. She saw his hopes, his dreams, his strength, his sorrows, his fears, his cowardice. She regarded him, her head cocked to the side. He was so, so mortal. She wanted to laugh at him, at the foolishness of herself, for falling for such a thing.
Meryl looked at Jarrett, who was staring at her triumphantly, radiating with pure magnificence and energy. She could now see him for what he truly was. It was what she was. They were great, they were powerful, and they were forever. But she could also into his very core, and it was empty. It was a black hole, incapable of love, or fear, or strength, or happiness. Her eyes skittered away, a strange fear bubbling within her chest, and back to Aiden. He was still mortal, pathetic almost, but, also something else. He was scared, scared for himself, and scared for her. She suddenly felt compelled to reach him, to comfort him, and to love him. She paused on the last thought. To love him?
Meryl’s chest suddenly felt heavy and her eyes filled with tears. She felt love. Jarrett hadn’t erased it, he had just suppressed it. She wanted to love. She needed to love. It threatened to destroy her, but she couldn’t exist without it. Jarrett saw the change within her and his eyes narrowed. Meryl went to Aiden and wrapped her arms firmly around his waist, hugging him tight and ignoring Jarrett’s dismayed face. After the briefest of hesitations, Aiden responded in kind.
“We don’t need to be together.” Meryl whispered to him, face muffled by his strong chest. “I know this. I lost myself for loving you and it almost killed me. I guess it did kill me. But loving you also saved me, and I will always love you for that.” She released him from the hug and he staggered back in a daze, eyes fluttering.
“Careful with the mortals, Mer.” Jarrett smirked, folding his arms across his chest. “They break easy.” He had switched gears immediately following her revelation. It didn’t matter if she loved, as long as she lusted. Her nature was different now and no matter how she felt about the mortal, the lust and the need to feed would always overpower it. Meryl frowned, looking down at her hands.
“Sorry, it might take me awhile to remember that.”
Aiden sank onto the bed, grinning weakly. He looked like he needed to faint. As he fought to stay upright, and then lost, Jarrett watched, fascinated. She was so powerful, more powerful than even him to fell a mortal with a single, prolonged hug? And he had created her. Jarrett couldn’t wait to take her away.
“We should go.” He began firmly, walking towards Meryl. “I have a lot to teach you.”
“Look into my soul and tell me what you see.” Meryl commanded, halting him with an outstretched palm. Jarrett stopped, eyes widening in surprise as her piercing ones bore into him. “Look closely, demon, for I am nothing like you. Yes, I am borne from you, but my nature is still my own. You will never hold dominion over me again.”
Jarrett regarded her for a moment, taking in the strength of her poise, the confident tilt of her chin, and the fierceness burning into him from those eyes. She really was magnificent, better even than a consort. She was his Lilith, and Lilith was ruled by no one, but she was still his. He bowed his head in submission, hiding his satisfied smile.
“Welcome to immortality, succubus.”
Short Story – Rebecca Davis – 2013