Part III: The Becoming
By Christopher Caldwell
Ash sat on Rena's couch while Rena and Mercutio spoke in low whispers just outside the door. Ash intuitively knew he was being whispered about, and occasionally heard snatches of conversation. The low masculine voice that belonged to Mercutio was clearly heard saying the word, "special". The higher feminine voice that was clearly Rena's said something about "Michaels" and "predator". Ash was somewhat amused by what he felt was the gist of the conversation. Rena was afraid that he was the same naif that had left Los Angeles with his heart broken and body bruised. He had learned in the ensuing years not to be careless with his heart, and knew enough not to completely trust a man he had just met. Even if that man was gorgeous and seemed to write in the Muse's own voice. Ash sighed and stretched languidly, his head hitting the pillow and sleep overtaking him long before the voices outside quit their murmuring rise and fall.
The next morning Ash awoke to Rena making breakfast in the kitchen. She was frying something and cursing softly. She noticed the groggy Ash stirring on the couch and said, "Good morning, sunshine," in a low humorless voice. Ash nodded and stretched, then extricated himself from the blankets and pillows that were wrapped around and ventured into the kitchen to give Rena a kiss on the cheek. "Breakfast. How domestic of you, darling. Did Mercutio stay over?"
Rena's upper lip quirked into half smile as she replied, "No. He always goes home before dawn. I made us both breakfast before I go to work. Eggs and bacon."
Ash smiled at Rena and got two plates from the cabinet. Ash choked down runny eggs and burnt bacon while Rena chattered about something of no consequence. Ash had several questions to ask about the strange man he had met the night before, but intuited that this was not the time for them. Rena poured them both bitter coffee, then whirled out of the apartment, leaving Ash alone with his thoughts.
Ash stared at the card Alan had given him the night before. He noticed that there was another number scrawled across the back. He wondered to himself if calling the next day would seem too eager, too desperate. Ash decided that because Alan had given him the card while he was on a date, that perhaps his interest was only platonic and that it was perfectly acceptable to call a friend the next day. Ash decided to busy himself with housework and combing through the classifieds to busy himself until the hour was late enough to call.
At about 2:30 in the afternoon Ash decided that even the most blatant of night owls would've woken up, and he began to work up the courage to call. It took another half hour before he had decided what he would say, with shaky fingers Ash dialed the number on the back of the card. The phone rang, and a voice answered, "Michaels' residence. Richard speaking."
Ash's heart sank. Yet another male voice was answering the phone. "Uh.. Hi, my name is Ash.. and.."
"Oh, Ash," the voice interjected cheerily, "Mr. Michaels left instructions should you happen to call. It's hard to get in touch with him during the day, but he seemed very interested in talking to you. I'm Richard, Alan's personal secretary."
Hope welled in Ash's chest. "Well, uh.. Mr. Michaels told me last night that maybe we could have dinner or.."
"Dinner? Marvelous. If tonight's fine for you, I can pen you in."
"Tonight's fine.. I'm not doing any-"
"Tonight it is then. Give me directions and I'll have a car pick you up at five," the relentlessly cheery voice on the other offered. Ash gave Richard directions in a shaky voice, wondering if he should slap himself twice, hard and make sure that this wasn't all a dream.
Ash spent the next two hours getting ready. Although he wasn't vain, he wanted to make sure that he looked respectable for his idol. After checking in the mirror countless times to make sure that not a hair was out of place, that not a crease was crooked, Ash sat motionless on the couch and waited for five. At almost precisely five, the doorbell rang. Ash got up as quickly as he could without stumbling over his own feet and flung open the door. Standing at the door was a tall, slender young man with lovely auburn hair that fell softly over his shoulders. He was nattily dressed in a black pinstriped suit and a white silk shirt with a band-collar. He looked at Ash and smiled broadly, "You must be Ash," he stuck out a hand, "I'm Richard, we chatted on the phone earlier. I was gonna send a limo for you, but figured I'd pick you up myself, because I'm not doing anything worth notice."
Ash numbly shook the hand of this genial youth whose grin was nearly disconcerting. "I'm Ash, nice to meet y--"
"I'm sure we'll get along great. My car's parked on the street."
Ash trudged silently after Richard to his car, which turned out to be a jazzy red convertible, smiling to himself. If nothing else, he was sure the night would prove interesting.
Richard drove with the top down, rock music blasting, both their hair flying in the wind. Every now and then he'd shout a question at Ash, who would answer in as few words as possible, his heart full of both terror and glee. Finally, Ash ventured a question, shouting above the music and wind, "So where are we going?"
"Laguna. There's a restaurant that Alan booked reservations at."
"Well, actually I booked them this afternoon when you called, using his name. Mr. Michaels is very well respected in Laguna Beach. It's a nice spot."
"Oh, what kind of food will we be eating?"
Richard seemed to be amused by this, "Italian-chinese fusion. That's what you'll be having, Mr. Michaels probably won't eat."
"Why isn't he going to eat?" Ash asked, perplexed.
"Oh, Mr. Michaels will probably have already eaten while conducting business, which means he'll in all likelihood be full by the time he arrives at the restaurant. It's a nasty habit he has.
"Oh." Ash said, not entirely satisfied.
Richard and Ash drove on the freeways while the sun was setting in the sky. Sunsets in Los Angeles are so beautiful, Ash reflected, perhaps it's too make up for the lack of stars. Ash watched the sky glow rose, gold, purple and red while Richard sang along loudly with the rock stars on the radio. Not long after blackness swallowed the sky, Richard exited the freeway and drove through the streets of Laguna beach, finally stopping before a charming stucco bistro with a green awning. Richard stopped the car and grinned, "Mr. Michaels should be along to meet you shortly, I have to attend to some personal business, have a lovely time."
Ash nodded his thanks at Richard, and turned to walk into the restaurant. At the front table an elderly man with rosy cheeks and white hair smiled at Ash, "Welcome to Huang's, do you have a reservation?"
"Uh.. I'm supposed to meet Alan Michaels here this evening," Ash replied.
The Maitre d's eyes widened a little and he smiled broadly, "Ah, very good sir.. we shall provide our very best table, would you like a drink from the bar, compliments of the house, while you wait?"
"No thank you," Ash smiled shyly.
"Very good, sir."
Ash was ushered to a table in the far corner that was behind a large oriental screen. Ash scanned through the menu by the flickering glow of the candles, and then noticed that there was a window behind him with a view of the night sea. Ash was looking out into the blackness of waves when a voice from behind him said, "I was so glad to hear that you'd called."
Alan was standing behind Ash, looking even lovelier than he had the night before. He was wearing a cafe-au-lait colored silk shirt with a mandarin collar and a cream-colored suit. His eyes sparkled, seeming almost gold in the candlelight. He sat down, reclining with deceptive grace and turned his lips up in a mysterious, tight-lipped smile. Ash stared into Alan's large, heavily lashed eyes and nearly fell in love on the spot.
"First off, I want to apologize for last night. Jaysin behaved quite rudely."
"Really, there's no need. I understand. If I were dating someone like you, I'd probably be a little jealous, too," Ash said, somewhat wistfully.
Alan laughed almost musically, "I'm not dating Jaysin. He was just my escort for the evening. He's an odd boy. But enough about him, I want to know about you."
Alan's charm was so disarming that the usually taciturn Ash found himself nearly monopolizing the conversation, telling things he'd kept secret even from Rena to a man he barely knew. The evening sped on, almost as if by magic, Ash barely noticing that he was the only one who'd had anything to eat or drink. Ash spilling everything to this beautiful man he'd only met the night before, Ash wondering if the it was the wine that made him feel so giddy, or the way the candlelight reflected off of Alan's eyes. After Alan paid the check (with much protestation from Ash, who'd been the only one to eat anything), they both strolled along the beach talking of love and poetry. Alan smiled at Ash while he mused, "It has been my experience that love is too precious and rare a thing to let go of, even when it takes you by surprise."
"And has love ever taken you by surprise," Ash said, unusually brazen.
Alan favored Ash with a long, slow smile, and said in a voice barely above a whisper, "Oh yes, yes indeed."
The two of them walked along in the moonlight, Ash both dreading and enjoying the sensations he was feeling. Looking up at the moon and feeling reflective, Ash sighed, "I've been afraid to really feel for so long, that just the little things are like magic."
Alan looked at Ash for a moment, then wordlessly, soundlessly kissed him. A few heartbeats later, Ash recovered, his eyes tearing up. Alan looked worried and said, "I'm sorry.. I've oversteppped my bounds, please forgive me."
Ash began to cry, but silently and emphatically shook his head. "No, no.. it's just all so wonderful, I don't know what to think."
Alan smiled benevolently at Ash and murmured, "We'll take things slow, I don't want to frighten you away. It's getting cold. I'll take you home."
Ash mutely nodded and followed Alan back to his car. The car in this case was another Limo, Alan introduced the driver as Bradley, a sullen, pasty fellow who seemed devoid of personality. On the ride back, Alan and Ash chatted pleasantly, not about the nature of life, but about favorite movies, songs and novels. The ride seemed all too short to Ash, he was hoping for another kiss, but instead got a friendly handshake, and a smile. "I hope to see you again, Ash. Soon."
Ash watched the limo glide back into the night and marched up the stairs to Rena's apartment, whistling happily. Ash's song caught in his throat, as he opened the door to find Rena sobbing frantically, her face bruised.
"Rena! Who's done this to you," Ash shouted, horrified and enraged. Rena gazed up at Ash, and terror seized her face, "You shouldn't've gone, he's angry.. he's.."
"Where the hell have you been?!" Mercutio shouted, he strode into the room, his trenchcoat trailing behind him, eyes wild with fury.
"I was out on a date, what the fuck business is it of yours? Did you do this to Rena, if you.."
"You went with Michaels, didn't you? I can smell his stench all over you," Mercutio's face contorted into a mask of rage. Ash began to angrily protest when before the the words could form in the back of his throat, Mercutio's hands lifted him off the floor in one liquid motion. Ash tried to struggle, but Mercutio's grip was viselike, inhumanly strong. Ash felt a dizzying sense of vertigo as Mercutio spun, far too fast for any normal human, and pressed him against a wall. "I'm not going to let him steal another from me, not this time," Mercutio growled, baring his teeth ferociously.
"You're mine!" Ash felt a sharpness against his throat, Mercutio's strong white teeth were tearing into his flesh. There was pain, sharp, vivid pain, but also a dizzying sensation as his lifeblood poured into Mercutio's angry awaiting mouth. From beneath a haze, Ash heard Rena scream, part of his being wanted to fight back, to try to tear himself away from this maniac, but the feeling of warmth and lethargy became to powerful to fight, and Ash found himself losing consciousness. At the edge of blackness, Ash felt something press against his lips, and allowed them to fall slack and open. He tasted salt and a metallic, coppery taste shortly before shadow consumed him. Blackness. Then, through the darkness, Ash heard a female voice, "My God, what have you done?"
"He's one of us now. My child" And then there was cruel laughter.
Christopher Caldwell is 22 in LA. E-mail him at email@example.com, or check out his homepage at http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Lofts/9010