Kando could see the colossal mansion at 2650 California Street from blocks away. He’d been warned on his way, when he was asking for directions from people – which he didn’t quite like to do because he was the leader of an undercover organization – that the owner was notorious around the area for his wild ragers, and that his residence, nicknamed the “Sin Sector”, was the center around which rumors of nefarious happenings frequently circulated, although their details would remain perpetually ambiguous. In recent months, however, the talk had very much quieted down due to reasons yet unknown. Kando had heard speculations of the owner’s death, relocation, or simple change of lifestyle. Feeling the muscles in his limbs tense in uncertainty as the building loomed ever closer, he reminded himself that this was only hearsay from plebeian street-people he was asking for directions from. But he recalled the last AWGWGC meeting and acknowledged his irrational fear of rumors. In any case, the arguably most dangerous and wanted WGWG on his watch list had directed him to this exact address, and that was a veritable source of trepidation. Kando steeled himself; he’d waited a good part of his life to meet this dude face to face.
Sure, there was a possibility that his nemesis wouldn’t even be there. He’d said to come and meet him, but there were, after all, rumors of him moving away, taking the sin of Sin Sector with him. But then why else would the man lead him to this spot? Was there a patrol of snipers waiting to take him out at the door? Or even worse, a patrol of WGWGs ready to surprise-serenade him with atrocious singing? Kando shivered at the thought as he approached the mansion, which now seemed unrealistically towering and also blindingly bright.
Someone is in there.
He stepped onto the glittery tarmac. There were no bullets, no Caucasian crooners. Instead, a guard bowed to him as two valets opened the gate. Letting out a sigh of relief, Kando stepped down the little concrete path traversing two shimmering rectangular pools, towards the transparent door of the house.
About two yards away, he saw through the door a woman running excitedly towards him. At lightning speed, she burst outside. She was moderately pretty, skinny, brunette and looked to be in her mid-twenties. Kando paused; the woman didn’t. He was utterly confused; she looked utterly certain. Before he knew it, she was on him, arms around neck and lips on lips.
“Oh, Brian, I’ve had such a wonderful time. Thank you so much,” she sighed into his ear as soon as it had finished.
Was this the ambush? What the devil was – Kando’s head was still spinning. “I’m – ” he choked between breaths. “I’m – ” It was the first time he’d kissed a girl. It was glorious. “Yes,” he finally managed. “I’m Brian. Brian Kando.”
The woman nodded, her eyes lighting up with recognition. “Ah yes, as you told me,” she said, and extended her hand. “Hannah Blackwell.”
By now Colton had tried three times to fit his key into the lock of his San Francisco apartment. His shaking right hand, however, seemed bent on preventing him from doing so. The doctor had told him it would be a side effect of emotional perturbations.
Emotional perturbations. Of course. Who wouldn’t be perturbed?
In frustrated desperation he jammed the key a fourth time, and this time it went through. He turned the lock and the thick, sickening thock of the click filled him with revulsion. Instead of opening the door, he laid his head on it, breathed deeply and closed his eyes. The throbbing of the cuts in his left hand suddenly intensified, and images of the evening’s occurrences swam up to meet him.
“I had no idea you were even here,” he said. His right hand gripped the red velvet tablecloth in an ineffective effort to conceal the tremor.
“I was busy,” answered Jessica. She hastily diverted her gaze to his plate. “You’re not eating.”
“Don’t change the subject,” said Colton coldly. “I, Michael Colton Dixon, am your boyfriend, Jessica Elizabeth Sanchez – ”
“Don’t use my full name, Colton.”
He ignored her. “So how is it that I had absolutely no clue that my Grammy-winning pop diva girlfriend’s last tour stop was today in San Francisco until I heard it from Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance, two guys working in fucking heavy metal? I had to walk into the concert with their free ticket. You couldn’t even make time for me. ”
“You know how stressful a tour can be, Colton,” whispered Jessica. “I swear I didn’t mean to spite you. And I’m making time for you here, right now.”
“You never contacted me once,” continued Colton, calm and unsettling, his left hand involuntarily closing around the neck of his glass. “For the entirety of the last two months you never contacted me ONCE.” At the spike of his voice, his fingers tightened around the thin, delicate crystal. “Seriously, Jessica, how fucking busy can you possibly be to not have the time to send your boyfriend an email or a text saying, ‘Hey! I miss you!’ or ‘Hey! My tour ends in San Francisco on this and this date!’ or, ‘Hey! I’m not fucking around with some other dude while you’re working your sorry ass off trying to make it as big as I am!’ “
“Or are you?” His voice dipped to the quiet and menacing calm, and his tone turned nasty. “That Mariah Carey song. That wasn’t for me. You sang it with such emotion, didn’t you. And oh, I know quite well what they’re saying online.”
“Colton, you’re being completely ridiculous. The internet is full of crap. It’s just a song. I’m supposed to sing it with emotion. It’s what singers do. Come on, J.Lo told us on Idol, remember?” Jessica attempted an easing smile.
“Idol, Idol, Idol. That’s what it all goes back to, isn’t it? You just can’t let it go. It’s like a fucking fixation.”
“Colton, you’re scaring me. You’re not usually like this.”
“Am I?” Colton smiled unstably. “Perhaps you should be. Maybe I am scary. And you’re right. I’m not usually like this. You made me like this.”
Jessica was silent for a long moment. “No,” she finally said, looking him in the eye. “I was wrong. You were always like this. This is you all over. Always jealous, always paranoid, always imagining what isn’t there. And maybe there are things I don’t tell you, like my belief that I don’t need to report every single detail of my life to you like you’re my legal guardian, or the fact that your overpossessiveness makes me want to break – ”
She nearly jumped as the piercing sound of shattering glass cut her off. Indifferent of the abrupt silence and the room full of eyes he had drawn, Colton glanced casually at the jagged remains of the glass he had smashed into the window.
“Ah, yes, that’s something I don’t usually do,” he said nonchalantly, still gazing at the glass and his bleeding left hand. “Break things. I think I might start, though. It’s rather fun, isn’t it?” He directed his steely glare toward Jessica. “Wouldn’t you know. You’ve broken so many things. Hearts. Promises. Trust. What next, Jessica? You gonna break a marriage? A family?”
“Break up with me? Are you kidding? You broke ME.”
Both of them fell silent. Jessica looked down, tears stinging her eyes. Colton’s expression did not soften. He had run out of tears.
“You never knew how much I loved you, did you?” he said, quietly.
“I did,” whispered Jessica. “And I tried. But I could never fully return it.” A tear fell from her cheek. “I’m sorry.”
“You should be.” Red-threaded fingers shoved a bank note unceremoniously across the table, and when she could finally bear to look up, he was gone.
And he’d come back here alone, bleeding, spiteful, overwhelmed by emotions he could not express. He’d wanted to cry and release them, which was why he closed his eyes, but he wasn’t crying. Perhaps it hadn’t gotten to that point yet. Or perhaps he was far past it.
A vibration in his pocket jerked him to his senses. He removed his phone from it and saw the alarm. His daily reminder. A rush of panic and an immediately following wave of relief shot through him. That’s right. Almost forgot.
He trudged listlessly to the desk drawer, the sleek mahogany-wood bane of his daily existence. All the while as he dragged his feet unenthusiastically across the carpet, he was aware that every second he wasted, every second he was late, was making things worse. It wasn’t happening yet, but he could feel it. His tremors seemed slightly more violent, the stings from the cuts just a bit sharper. He’d be there soon, he told himself; he’d open that drawer, do what he had to do and it would all be over before it started. But for some reason, part of him was trying to delay it. Part of him craved it, that uncontrollable feeling of being afraid…
As he sat down in front of the desk, he relished it. He heard the bottle screaming his name. Colton. Colton. You idiot. Closing his eyes, he inhaled the musty apartment air, his heart palpitating; it was thrilling just to test his resistance to the hallucinations. When he opened his eyes, however, a corner of one took notice of what was lying on top of the desk all the while. Something that hadn’t been there this morning: a photo of some sort.
Colton felt sick. The lights were dim and the photo had been shaking when he picked it up, but who was on it was unmistakable.
Phillip and Jessica, in their Carly-party get-up. How could I forget? Lip to lip, up against the wall. The bitch. The bastard. Really? Back then? Already? What about the – I knew there was – I knew – Hands holding her face. Arms around his neck. Kissing him back. So it was all true. Having a mighty fun time there, aren’t you, you soulless fucking backstabbers? I seriously can’t believe –
Colton’s stomach lurched, and it took all his strength to keep down its contents. His cerebellum felt like it had just been steamrolled by a train. The photos were living, moving now. Moving in ways he could go his entire life without seeing. Lips on his neck, hands down her back, loosening her dress, the whole scene turning sideways and taking them with it. Make it fucking stop. Fuck. FUCK! He squeezed his eyes shut, slammed the photo upside down and threw open his drawer, fumbling in the dark for the syringe and small bottle of liquid. Just as he closed his fingers around them, he noticed that there was black Sharpie-scribbled text all over the back of the photo.
Holding it steady with his left hand, Colton read the note thoroughly and carefully. He kept his calm throughout, though he was fully aware with every word that it was the last straw. He held the tears in all the way to the end. But they did not relieve him.
An insane decision suddenly held him in its grip. He slowly loosened his own on the bottle and syringe.
He wouldn’t need it anymore.
The future seemed so bright.
The polished wood of the piano keys felt like daggers and syringes in his left hand and through his punctured veins. He’d practiced and played this song to perfection once upon a time, and every missed note was erupting shrapnel in his perfect-pitch ear.
Then the saint turned out so evil
I don’t know why I’m still surprised.
Emotion through song. He finally understood it, here as the walls were beginning to collapse around him. He’d sung it like a robot in the past, nothing but words added to musical notes, feigned emotion contrived from mere technicalities in cadence and tone, but now… Yes, he felt it now. Full points on Idol. Safe. He could be at the Grammys. They’d be dazzled. They’d feel it too. They’d speculate that something was wrong with him. And of course they’d be right. Too right.
Even angels have their wicked schemes
And you take that to new extremes.
Debris from the disintegrating ceiling crashed to the floor, just missing him but ravishing him with the rush of chaotic sound. Sparks jumped at him from the body of the grand piano, singing his skin. Raising his head, he closed his eyes and slowly inhaled the potent fragrance of smoke and burning wood. He laughed feverishly and imagined her singing the next lines.
But you’ll always be my hero
Even though you’ve lost your mind.
As if on cue, the piano burst into flames. Wooden boards descended all around him from the ceiling, and a circular wave of heat rose up and wrapped him in its pressing embrace. He’d be safe, his tears would not drown him, nor would the fire char his flesh – if he kept singing.
Just gonna stand there and watch me burn
That’s all right because I like the way it hurts
Just gonna stand there and hear me cry
That’s all right because I love the way you lie.
I love the way you lie.
She’d sung it with him in Manila. February 2013. The saint, the angel, the betrayer, the trigger – singing with him what she eventually would cause years later. Ironic. Why did he love her? She was a liar. She never cared. And he could not forgive her for it. But he could also not forgive himself.
Sweat mixed with tears and ash as he pushed on. The walls cracked and slumped inwards as the flames surged for him. The temperature soared and hot air seared his throat as the song built up to a crescendo and blood from his exhausted fingertips slickened the keys, coral red on black and white.
So maybe I’m a masochist
I try to run but I don’t want to ever leave
Till the walls are going up
In smoke with all our memories
Colton hit the crescendo just as the basement exploded and engulfed him in the pyre. Eyes still shut, he felt the permeating pain of fire against skin and through flesh. It deluged him from all sides, shooting through his core. Immersed in death.
His hands, which felt like someone else’s, slowed to relent the piano; the notes faded, and the flames receded into his mind from whence they came.
Colton took a deep breath. The fire had revitalized him, and though it had disappeared, his brain continued to race haywire into eighty-three dimensions. It fed him wild confabulations and schemes from a dark part of his soul he never knew existed. Then, somewhere, somehow in the spiderweb, one of them caught his fancy. And suddenly he was unwaveringly certain that Jessica would not be forgiven. She would indeed be getting what she deserved for the last months and the last four years.
Just a few emails would do.