“You had us all rather worried there.” My mother brushed the hair back from my eyes then pulled me close and held me. I nearly gagged. “I thought you were out with that Tristan again. We went looking for you! I can’t tell you how glad I was to find you here when I got home.”
I had to fight myself not to pull away, to roll my eyes, to say something horrible to my mother. Instead, I remained silent and passive, barely moving or breathing. An empty doll, a puppet spit out by the mental health institution. The act I put up that made them think I was perfectly well adjusted again, without any more fits or breakdowns or rants about monsters in the heart. It was much harder to keep up when I wasn’t half-sedated by the meds.
“How about you call one of your friends, darling? I’m sure they’re dying to see you! It would be good for you to go out and catch a movie with one of the girls. It’s gotten so much warmer. All the snow is melting, and we’ll be back to spring in a day or so. Then summer is just around the corner.”
When I didn’t respond, my mother let me go and flew off to the kitchen. I heard a cupboard open and knew it was the one with the phone list taped inside. My mind was preoccupied with images of Tristan’s fiery eyes and my heart was starting to pound. How would Mercy or Tam understand what was going on inside me? They both thought like everyone else; both thought I was crazy. Sometimes Tam seemed to understand, but Mercy would never begin to.
“How about Mercedes? She’s always so quiet and polite. I think Tamara is a bit too boisterous for you just yet.” Without even waiting for a response, there was the sound of buttons being pressed, then my mother walked back into the room with one ear pressed to the portable phone. A few moments of silence before her face lit up and she started speaking. “Mercedes! This is Mrs. Lamoreux.” A pause. “Yes, Vesta’s doing great! I think she’s lonely, though, and I was wondering if you were free tonight? Something like going to a movie?”
I sank down in a chair, part of me humiliated and the other part seething. It was the little demon clawing its way up, bringing me violent and bloody images of what to do with this interfering woman on the phone. But the humiliation won out, and I stared at my hands, wondering what Mercy would think of me. Having my mother trying to arrange what little social life I could possibly have.
“That would be wonderful, Mercedes. Would you be able to pick her up here? I can give you some money to cover the ticket prices if you want.” Another pause. “Oh, keep her out as long as you want, just please do bring her home yourself.”
The conversation began to slip into the background as I stared at the wall. I felt sick, wondering if I really did look as sick as both my mother and Tristan thought. It was all a sickness of the mind, but it wasn’t. It was true. Tristan was capable of so many awful things, but he had never once lied to me. And I would have to pretend all night that I was better, that I was normal, try to slip back into a life I was no longer accustomed to.
“Vesta, dear.” My mother set the phone down on a coffee table. “How about you go upstairs and get ready? Mercedes will be here shortly. She still only lives a few blocks away! And once you’re better, you do remember Alaric is on the same block? That boy is a little strange, but he’s a very gentle soul.”
With a nod, I got up and drifted to the stairs. My mother’s voice faded out behind me as I closed my bedroom door and stared into my mirror. My hair was limp and my eyes a bit glazed, sunken. The pallor of my skin was a little too deathly and my clothes were hanging off my body like cloth sacks. I had to do something about this before Mercy came, before my supposed real life was forced to start again.
It was time to dress that part again for the first time in two years. Let the demon peak its head out a little. I would wear something Tristan would approve of. Something that would make people stare at me and think that they wanted me nowhere near their children instead of “that poor girl.”
A pair of black leather pants that had always been too tight and now fit me perfectly, curving over my hips and ass. A matte red vinyl halter top that laced together in the back to whatever tightness I should need. For the first time in years, the trailing cord reached all the way down to the back of my knees.
Next, the hair, which I had to dye drastically and soon. All I could manage for the time was so much gel it looked nearly black, spiked out in every wild direction. And with enough black eyeliner and violet eyeshadow, my eyes no longer looked sunken; they seemed to shine the amethyst that Tristan had spoken of.
My mother wouldn’t approve of the get-up at all, so I pulled my nearly forgotten black leather trench coat out of the back of the closet. This way I could get out the door without being halted mid-step and told to cover my body. That was a humiliation I couldn’t take in front of Mercy, whose parents were only ever amused by her strange choices in fashion.
Almost as soon as I had slipped the coat on, the doorbell rang and my mother was calling me downstairs. I did up the middle three buttons of the coat, enough to keep it closed and ensure my mother wouldn’t see my bare belly. Even with it closed, though, she did a double-take when I walked down the stairs, fully dressed and with hair and makeup done. It was something I had never bothered with at the hospital.
Mercy was standing in the doorway, a sight to match my own wardrobe. Her trench coat was vinyl and covered in straps and buckles. Part of the Lip Service Fetish Collection and her most prized possession. Her skirt was shorter than it had ever been before I last got sent away. It clung to her legs like a plaid second skin. Her shirt was black and tight, drastically low cut, and her hair was an explosion of wild ‘80s Manic Panic burgundy. Something seemed to glow off her, a light I had once seen in myself. Back in the wild and dangerous days when things first started with Tristan.
“Ves!” Mercy ran up to me and threw her arms around me. It took me a moment to hug back, but by then Mercy had already almost pulled away. “God, girl, you look smashing.” She was about to say more, then glanced at my mother. “So, you up to seeing a movie?”
Ignoring my mother, who was lingering anxiously at the back of the hallway and probably wishing she wasn’t sending her poor insane baby girl out with this freak, I pulled on a pair of black platforms. “Yeah,” I murmured, meeting Mercy’s cobalt blue eyes momentarily. “Haven’t seen one for so long, kind of forget what it’s like.”
The moment we left the house and had the door shut behind us, Mercy grabbed my hand and ran with me until we were out of view. Neither of us could help laughing as we stumbled to a halt and glanced back at the house that was as much of a holding cell as anything in the hospital.
“I was getting sick of seeing you in some crazy house, anyway.” Mercy grinned. “You look as dangerous and beautiful as ever.”
It was hard to resist Mercy’s mood, so I gave in. The hospital seemed suddenly much farther away. Maybe I wouldn’t have to pretend with my old friends. We’d been through a lot together, Tam and Alaric, me and Tris, then Mercy—always caught in the middle. “You’ve notched up your own danger a little.”
We started walking and Mercy didn’t speak for a while. Something had come over her, a dark shadow that made my skin crawl. From the familiarity, more than anything. There was a doubt lingering inside Mercy all too similar to what had sent me to the hospital in the first place.
“Hey, Merce. I’m the crazy one, how about you cheer up a little and try to keep my wild little mind at ease?”
She let out a long breath before responding. “I don’t know if I ever really believed before… You know, about the monsters. The demons.” She cringed a little when she looked up, probably afraid of what would come over me.
“Go on.” There was a tightening in my heart, a quick burn across my scar, but I didn’t want to get angry at Mercy. I had to at least hear her out.
“I met someone.” A slight grimace, then she shrugged helplessly. “Or I’m crazy too.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“How did you know? I mean, about the monsters? About your father?”
“I just… I knew.” I walked closer to Mercy, trying to feel every little signal my friend was giving off. Was this a joke? Mercy had never been the cruel one; that was always Tam’s job. “I always kind of knew. It just got worse as time went on. When we met Tris in grade 8, and the black and the music that really mattered came over me, I started piecing it together.”
“And first time you talked too much was after Columbine. D’you think Harris and Klebold were monsters too? Demons?” Mercy was dragging her feet, staring at the ground.
“I was 16. It’s hard to remember what I thought.”
“I was 16 too, barely. And sometimes I thought they were monsters, sometimes I thought they were martyrs. Misbegotten martyrs whose cause only fell in ashes at their dead feet. Because suddenly the point they were trying to make about how the outcasts were treated…it got worse. And back then, I thought you were just reacting to that. I know I was, and the crazy thoughts in my head… Hell, I would have been institutionalized if I’d told anyone.” She took a breath. “I used to fantasize about a boy in black wearing a mask bursting into the crowded cafeteria and taking me hostage, whispering all these romantic promises in my ear when he wasn’t screaming at the students around me.”
I nodded. “I used to fantasize it was Tristan, and he would tell me to keep the message alive before he shot himself in the middle of a circle of bodies.” I stopped walking. “Sometimes, I was the one with the gun.”
“Lots of times, I was the one with the gun.” Mercy took hold of my arm as we started walking again. “It just didn’t seem fair. Suddenly, kids who wore black, kids who were abused by their peers, kids who were too quiet… They were suspect. Their teachers and peers expected them to melt down and take the school with them. Did I ever tell you I made the shooting list?”
“You were already in the hospital then. The paranoia calmed down a lot before you got back out.”
“If I hadn’t been in there, I think I would have placed as number one.”
“No, Tristan did. No one could have beaten him. I was third. Tam was jealous. She didn’t make the list at all.”
I smiled. “Must’ve pissed her off.”
“But what this is about…”
“You met someone.”
Mercy nodded. “It’s hard to talk about. I want to say you’ll think I’m crazy, but then that’s not fair to you. Hell, it’s not fair of me to tell you this now, just after they let you out again. But I believe you.” She met my eyes. “About the demons.”
“Why?” My skin wouldn’t stop crawling. I had always referred to them as monsters, and here Mercy was calling them demons the same day Tristan had explained about our fathers.
“He just appeared out of nowhere while I was shovelling through two feet of wet snow. I was listening to Steinman, and he knew so much about him and the wolf with the red roses. There was something deeply wrong about him. He got into my head. I couldn’t get him out, I didn’t want to. I let him just follow me into the house and it was like he somehow pushed my mother into leaving. And Vesta…” She swallowed, coming to a stop again, this time at the bus shelter.
“C’mon, it’s me you’re talking to. I have no right to not believe someone when they think they’re going nuts.”
“I’ve missed you.” She hesitated a moment before hugging me again. This time, we held onto each other longer, and Mercy shivered. When we released, she started kicking at puddles absently so she wouldn’t have to look up. “He cornered me in my room. Started…” She shook her head. “Started getting all over me; decided I was a sub and he liked me fine that way. And it just swept me away. I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I didn’t want to stop it. But he…”
I squeezed her hand but remained silent.
“His eyes were a chemical fire. A toxic and beautiful green. His skin was burning hot, his nails ice cold. And Vesta… I swear to god… He had horns.”
My entire body went cold, the scar above my heart itching again. Mercy wasn’t into making this shit up. However much of an attention seeker she was, she channelled it with drama over the real. It wasn’t Mercy’s place to live in a world of fantasies. And, of course… “I believe you.” I had to. Because then someone other than Tristan would actually understand.
I stared at Vesta, not sure whether I’d heard her right or not. She looked excited as she took both my hands and repeated herself. “I believe you, and thank you. God, thank you. Don’t you know what this means? Mercy, I’m not crazy. You’re not crazy. They’re real. It’s real. It’s…”
I waited for her to continue.
“It’s inside me. I know it is. Tristan told me today—”
“You’ve seen him?” My heart skipped a little just thinking about him.
“And he hasn’t changed, not really. Except…maybe he’s showing some feeling now. It’s hard to tell with him. Everything is about dominance and possession, but he let some weakness in.” She dropped my hands, a strange smile coming over her face. “Our fathers… Both our fathers… They weren’t human. And… If you know these things are out there, if you’ve seen them… It’s real.”
It was hard not to feel scared; hard not to feel excited. Toby was real. I found myself repeating that out loud, needing to speak it to believe it. “Toby was real.”
Vesta jerked back, staring at me in disbelief.
“Tris made friends with a Toby in juvie when he was there the time before. They’ve talked on and off since ’99, but I’ve never met him.”
“D’ya think my Toby and his Toby—”
I took a breath. “What was his Toby in for?”
“Manslaughter. They figured since he was a kid, it had to be an accident. He only got a couple years. I think he got out before Tris went in again.”
The sound of screeching tires made both of us freeze. I almost did a double-take as a sleek and sexy jet black classic Mustang skidded to a halt a couple of feet away from us. The car had to be stolen. After all, it was Tristan behind the wheel. And there was a boy in the seat beside him, his face turned away to stare out the passenger window. Brown hair scattered down unevenly to his shoulders, brushing the leather of his jacket. Fear and excitement at once gripped me, but my mind took over before my body could. I darted back to the lawn of the nearest house, dragging Vesta with me.
Tristan rolled down his window and hung half his upper body out. “Well, what are two sexy bitches like you doing waiting for public transit?”
I flushed immediately. He had never even implied that I was sexy before. “Vesta’s mother is being a bitch from hell and decided to create a nice and safe little social scene for her via me. I think she’d forgotten how much of a freak I was, though, judging by the look on her face when I went to pick Ves up.” I did my best not to stare past Tristan at the passenger who was still turned away.
“Did I ever mention…” He smiled lazily, his eyes drifting to Vesta. “That I know when I’m being talked about? Some of my friends… Well, they can do the same.”
Vesta walked over to his car, hips swinging, obviously as comfortable with Tristan as she ever was. “And who’s your friend?”
He grinned. “Ask Mercy.” For a moment, his eyes met mine. “Mercy knows, doesn’t she?”
“Merce?” She glanced at me then to the boy who was still turned away.
Tris’ only acknowledgement was an inclination of his head before he went off again. “See, if you were making plans with Merce tonight, that means you were standing me up. But I can forgive and forget. I was thinking the four of us would hit The Underground. They’ve got a cool local band playing later on. I’ll get you home in one piece, Ves, just so your mom doesn’t ship you off to the psych ward again. It’s all in Mercy’s hands, though, as to whether or not she comes back in one piece tonight.”
“If I’m not the one to bring Vesta home tonight, asshole, her mom’s probably going to sic your PO on you. It was her last request before we left.”
“Maybe we can make it her last request at all?” A flick of his wrist and he had his knife in his hands.
“Yeah, because that’s smart. You have a court order not to approach Vesta and her mom turns up dead?”
“You never stop playing feisty, do you?” Toby turned around, his green eyes blazing out from under his hair. “You’re a lot less feisty in restraints, though. I’ve got to give you that.”
Vesta had moved back to beside me. She put her hand on my arm. “That’s…”
“The real thing,” I whispered. Something froze inside me when his eyes slid over my body. The way they flared, I knew he enjoyed the view my outfit of the day gave him. I hoped he couldn’t read in me that I’d worn this hoping maybe I’d see him again.
“You look a bit more intimidating today, Mercy. Or is the word I’m looking for ‘fuckable?’ Things do get confused like that sometimes.”
I inhaled slowly. I was again struck speechless by this strange demon boy. As he stared at me, I felt the world tilt alarmingly.
Tristan had a grin spreading slowly over his face. He was enjoying this and didn’t care to hide it. “Surprised it took you this long to clue in, Mercy. Did you really think Ves was a liar or a crazy? There’s a whole million other worlds out there you ain’t seen yet. Kind of doubt you would want to.” His eyes flicked up to me for a moment. I didn’t understand the look, but it definitely didn’t match his grin or his words.
So I ignored it and held onto the only thing that made sense. The anger. It was the only thing that could keep me strong. I held it close and let it start to rise. “Since when did you know a single fucking thing about me? You’ve spent half your life behind bars while I’ve been free. We’ve all been free.”
I would have thought that would be a step too far; if I were her, I would have decked him. But she just hung her head, and I wondered if I was the one who’d offended her. “At least she’s still innocent.”
“Maybe the only one of us who still is. And maybe fighting to stay innocent is what lands her in that hospital again and again.”
“Vesta, do you enjoy him talking about you like you’re not here?”
She shrugged, her eyes on the road. “He does this with everyone.”
“And if she doesn’t mind…” He shrugged. “Toby, get out and pop the seat. The girls are coming with us.”
A sensible person would have said no. A sensible person would have grabbed Vesta and run back to her house. There was a demon-boy and what Vesta had hinted was a half-demon sitting in that car. No, the demon-boy was climbing out of the car and pulling the passenger seat forward. And when he looked at me, his eyes burning like acid, and told me I was riding in the back with him…I couldn’t say no.
As soon as we were all in the car, Tristan had a smoke lit and he pulled away from the curb at death-defying speeds. Vesta shrieked then giggled, while I found myself being thrown into Toby’s lap by the turn.
“Well, hello. Didn’t know you were that eager.”
I tried to push myself away from him, but he held onto me, shaking his head. “Tsk. Can’t even admit it to yourself. Am I that terrifying?”
“I’m sure you can only scare five-year-old children.” I was shaking too much for my fierce words to have any impact.
“However fun that hobby is, I must admit it isn’t my forté.” He stroked my cheek, his smile softening as his eyes burned into mine. “Ever told you you’re pretty?”
The word was so incongruous, it shut me up. I couldn’t think of anything to say back to him. I found myself staring into his eyes, a strange feeling starting to rise inside me. It was like I was melting into him and being sucked into his eyes at once. Being consumed by this boy with an arm around me, just by his presence and gaze. And I didn’t mind it. A strong part of me wanted him to consume me entirely.
Tristan decided it was too quiet in the car; he howled out “Tiger Army never die!” before starting their self-titled toward the middle of the CD. Psychobilly electric guitar came blasting out of the speakers, creeping around us as the boys both grinned.
The look in Toby’s eyes… Was more dangerous than I could have imagined. He leaned in close and sang along. “Girl, just look into my eyes. You’re starting to feel hypnotized…”
I wanted to gain some sense back, pull away from him, do anything but give in… But the music snaked into my ears, into my brain, and his toxic green eyes filled my vision. I couldn’t even imagine what was happening to Vesta up front, but by the time Tristan pulled into a downtown parking lot within walking distance of The Underground, I was no longer myself at all.
 Tiger Army. “Trance.” Tiger Army. Hellcat Records, 1999.