West Bloomfield, Michigan
Raiden did not resist as Gabriel pinned him to the wall. Extra heartbeats pummeled their rib cages in sync. Respiration was audible. Standing still, Gabriel scanned Raiden’s features, lingering on the long feminine lashes hiding the singer’s downcast eyes. He squeezed Raiden’s shoulders and insinuated a knee between his thighs.
“Did you think I wouldn’t come for you?”
Raiden shifted his weight. “Let me go.”
Gabriel released a frustrated sigh. “I need to—”
“Don’t,” the older vampire warned. “Don’t tell me.”
“Whatever you have to say, I don’t want to hear it. Now let me go.”
Gabriel removed his hands and shoved them into his pockets. “I just want to have you once. Let me taste you.”
Raiden looked up. “You’ve tasted my blood before.”
“That was different. The first time you forced it on me. And the last time I—”
“Look, my blood isn’t available to the public.” Raiden pivoted away from him. “Consider it part of my private collection.”
Gabriel pouted. “I take offense to your suggestion that I’m part of ‘the public.’ Surely I merit special privileges, given my status: I’m your baby.”
“Ha!” Raiden snorted. “That’s twisted, Gil.”
“You made me. Therefore …” Gabriel stepped in front of him. “You’re like a sperm donor.” He snickered. “In this case the frisson between us is very taboo, Father.”
Raiden balked. “I’d never call myself your father, and I won’t give you any more of my blood.”
Gabriel wet his lips. “What if I take it anyway?”
Raiden’s eyes darted to Gabriel’s mouth. “Don’t risk it.”
“Why not?” Gabriel bent down to Raiden’s height. “What would I stand to lose?”
“Oh, man! That was an awesome kiss!” Ken’s speakerphoned tenor chirped.
Gabriel shook himself out of the erotic daydream he had repeatedly (and falsely) promised himself he would not repeat. Best laid plans. “Sorry. What was that?” he asked Ken.
“I was talking to the TV,” his friend replied. “Aren’t you watching the show? Mike and Luce just swapped spit.”
“It’s rather difficult to keep track of the plot and remember who’s into who. Most of these white men look alike.”
Ken guffawed. “Says the whitest man I know.”
“You aren’t entirely incorrect. Still, I do possess a tinge of swarthiness.” Gabriel slipped into his lowest vocal register. “A certain mystique.”
Ken blew a raspberry into the receiver. “If you weren’t a tall, handsome francophone, you’d lose your edge.”
“Fair enough.” Gabriel rubbed his temples. “I apologize for my wandering attention.”
“Long-distance binge-watching isn’t the same as binge-watching in person.” Ken sounded disappointed. “You’re usually so into Gay for Pay.”
“Maybe we should put a pause on binge-watching until I return.”
“Which will be when? This place is too quiet without you,” Ken complained. “I know we’re megastars and can afford our own houses, but I like living together. It’s cozy.”
“I’ll return in a couple of weeks.”
“Thank God. I was so shocked when you decided to stay in Detroit for the summer! Two whole months down the drain. God only knows what you see in that sweaty jockstrap of a city.”
“West Bloomfield isn’t Detroit—it’s the suburbs. White picket fences. Faux fine dining. Immaculate gardens. You know all this, Ken: you were momentarily a denizen of Metro Detroit as well. This rental property—the one you temporarily shared with me—is without reproach. You remarked upon its worthiness yourself.”
“I was a visitor, not a denizen, and I was bored out of my fucking gourd.”
Gabriel examined his nails. “It’s been pleasant catching a break from the spotlight. People do recognize me here, but I can travel much more freely without fear of harassment. I don’t miss the paparazzi.”
“Yeah, yeah. I hear that. Anyway, Tinseltown’s interminably dull without you. Though not as dull as that Midwestern hellhole. You’re not mad at me for leaving, right?”
“The final one. I just couldn’t take it. When the apocalypse hits earth, or the aliens take over, I’ll vote for Michigan as the first state to go.”
Ken crunched popcorn loud enough to convince Gabriel to lower the speakerphone’s volume.
“Is he gone yet?” His Mesmerized costar’s voice reverberated off the tile floor.
“Who?” Gabriel asked.
“Your crush. That hot lil half-Japanese blond you’re so smitten with. The ruler of your wet dreams.”
“Raiden’s not my crush.” Gabriel’s voice rose in pitch. “He’s a colleague.”
“Gabe! I literally walked in on you jerking off to his picture,” Ken reminded him.
He was glad Ken could not see him blush. “Can’t you stop talking about that?”
“Only if you can stop thinking about it.” Ken chuckled. “So are you gonna check out one of his lives? He’s supposed to play in LA, right?”
Gabriel side-stepped his question. “The tour’s almost over.”
“Already? That was quick.”
“Hm, do I detect seismic waves in homoerotic paradise?”
“You mean homoerotic hell.”
“Are you still in touch?”
Gabriel stared at his lap. “We grew weary of each other.”
“You sure you’re still gonna work with him on the movie? You know how long and drawn-out shoots can get.”
“I’m sure.” He closed his eyes, willing himself not to conjure images of his quasi hookup with Raiden. Though he was desperate for Ken’s take on the event, he could not bring himself to confess to the permitted hand job. If I start talking about that, I might not be able to stop. Before I know it, I’ll have told him I’m a vampire. No!
“Are you getting feels?”
Gabriel was puzzled. “Feels?”
“Like, feelings. Emotions. Heart eyes and birds singing ballads through the open window and all that shit.”
“I take offense at your implication.”
“Really, the teasing’s gone too far. We’re missing the TV show.” With his pinky, he crushed a fly idling on the table.
“Gabe!” Ken sucked his teeth. “You weren’t paying attention in the first place.”
“Let’s just talk about something else, d’accord?” Gabriel swept what was left of the fly into the wastebasket. “For instance: who had work done while I was away? The other evening, when I was watching Reach for the Stars, I noticed Jeremy Baker’s nose seemed much straighter than when he was on the cover of Populous.”
“Pfft, that’s old news.” Ken’s volume dropped. “Can I tell you a gory detail in confidence, though?”
“Jeremy Baker’s nose may be straight, but he’s as gay as a fucking rainbow singing Lady Gaga songs.”
Gabriel cracked up. “I don’t believe you! I thought he was hooking up with Shelby Cole. They made quite the stir, carousing about town.”
“Gabe, you know their PDA is bullshit. How can you still be this naive after your Hollywood initiation?”
“It’s part of my whimsical charm.”
They stayed on the phone gossiping for another twenty minutes before Gabriel ended the call with the excuse that he needed to take a powder. In reality he needed a hit of blood. Grimacing, he slit the throat of the hours-old possum he had caught rifling through the garbage bin. He heated the animal’s blood in a nonstick pot and cursed when he burned his tongue during a taste test. The excruciating wave of cramps with which he had become familiar began ten minutes after he had consumed the entirety of the pot’s contents and lasted until all hours of the night, when he finally surrendered to his body’s rebellion and upchucked every last drop—as he had done most nights since he had left Raiden’s dubious care.
Suffering violent convulsions, he bit down on the fleshy pad of his palm and self-soothed.
At least I’m not murdering people to appease my cravings … yet.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Summer had slipped from Raiden’s grasp like a sweaty hand. The tour prep had not mattered: Raiden was as much a fish out of water on the road as he had been since the LA concert catastrophe five years prior. Despite his track record of youthful summers spent at his father’s home in North Carolina, his comfort level with American culture had since taken a nosedive. The tour was a montage of forgettable moments from the first night in Detroit to the third-to-last predicted snooze fest in Vegas. He was willing to bet a week’s supply of blood that tonight’s experience would not elevate Scent’s Feeling the Way Tour.
Fumbling to Second Base When You’re Wasted and Having Trouble Getting Hard would have made a more accurate title, he thought.
He struck a match against the gate that led to The Railhead’s backstage entrance and lit one of Kai’s leftover Marlboro Reds. Coughing, he held the glowing cancer stick away from his face and tried to catch his breath.
The tour mostly sucks because of me.
Nine times out of ten, Raiden had phoned in his performances. Kai grumbled about his sloppy timing in half sentences that usually ended with ellipses. Yoshi did not explicitly express concern; instead he made small talk about how he neither understood nor appreciated certain elements of American road trip culture—such as powdered eggs, a staple of the free continental breakfasts hotels offered. Taro conveyed his extreme disapproval of Raiden’s listless lyrical delivery in daily texts while they prepped in the dressing rooms of their venues du jour.
Taro’s current text was the most venomous yet:
Your onstage demeanor is appalling. As long as we’ve been friends, you’ve never been this uncommitted to the band. We have money riding on these shows and are risking losing American fans. Our label will ream us a new one if word gets back you’ve turned into a busking zombie. They might even drop you as Scent’s lead singer. There are plenty of other talented front men out there who’d kill to be in your shoes.
Raiden jammed a thumb at himself. “Talk to my face, Taro-kun. I’m literally two feet away from you.”
Taro white knuckled the sides of his chair. “We have a show to do.”
“Bakayarou,” Raiden cursed under his breath. Asshole. In a louder voice: “Then stop blowing up my phone and let me get in the zone.”
“You haven’t been ‘in the zone’ since we came to the US,” Taro sniped.
“Raiden-san! You may be tired, but your fans still love you!” his manager piped up from the couch. Matsuda continued chattering to bolster him with motivational platitudes and verbal cheer-a-thons, but Raiden was having none of it.
His BO smells like day-old McDonald’s fries.
“Fuck this country!” Yoshi exclaimed in an uncharacteristic outburst. “We should’ve done an Asian tour instead.” The drummer tossed his hair into a man bun as he rattled off his pet peeves about the US. “Ugly language. Shitty food. Drinks too strong. Hugging as a greeting. People too fat.
“Yo-chan!” Taro scolded. “Don’t be unkind. We’re lucky to have this opportunity.” He examined the neck of his bass and flicked off a piece of fluff. “We love our fans, remember? Doesn’t matter what they look like.”
“I like fat people,” Matsuda added. “They’re jolly.” He pantomimed patting a round belly. “Like Santa Claus!”
“It’s not jolly when they’re crushing you with their back rolls,” Yoshi complained. “The other day I was behind a man in line at the convenience store. He stepped backward, and I got stuck in his body. I couldn’t breathe!”
“That does sound unpleasant,” Kai agreed.
“Everything’s just too … big.” Yoshi tapped his drumsticks together. “People, space, buildings, food. It’s a greedy place.”
“I’ve never seen this side of you, Yo-chan,” Taro marveled. “You’ve got a mean streak.”
“Stress,” Kai proclaimed. “He’s reaching his limit. And you aren’t helping.” He jabbed his guitar at Taro and Raiden. “You argue every day.”
Raiden ignored Kai’s criticism. “In Japan we’re always looking for somewhere to hide. In America our fans are the only ones who recognize us. The members of Prodigal Son can’t even remember our names, and we’ve been opening the tour for them since June.”
“Take your pride down a peg,” Taro suggested. “It isn’t easy going from having your asshole licked to groveling at your fans’ feet, but that’s the reception you should expect in a foreign country.”
“Especially in a country where the natives think a burger meets all the food-group requirements,” Yoshi added.
“It kind of does,” Kai pointed out.
“What’s more”—Taro swiveled in Raiden’s direction—“the second we’re done, this one’s running back to Detroit to join his new buddy for preproduction meetings.”
“Why are you going back there? Why not straight to LA?” Kai lit a cigarette then stubbed it out when Yoshi pointed to the No Smoking sign.
Raiden fine-tuned his eyeliner. “I’ve already explained this: the shoot’s mostly in San Francisco, but we’re getting some of the preliminary stuff out of the way in Detroit because of the film industry tax incentive. A bunch of other movie teams are going the same route: getting done what they can in Michigan and filming their major scenes elsewhere. I’ll be in Detroit for about two weeks before relocating to San Francisco.”
“Exciting!” Matsuda rubbed his hands together. “I’m happy to join you in the Motor City for the movie’s beginning.” He air wrote the letters of the film’s title: “L-U-N-A S-U-N-S-E-T. Sounds like a masterpiece.”
Taro pooh-poohed the praise. “Whatever. Raiden’s lucky we’ll be on a break once we go back to Japan, or we couldn’t spare you, Matsuda. I hope you don’t expect to take our staff members too.”
“I have my own staff for my personal needs. I don’t need to use Scent’s staff.” Raiden applied a barely there coating of bronze eyeshadow. “Anyway, I won’t need my usual crew. Colin will make sure I’m taken care of.”
Taro rolled his eyes. “I’m sure he will.”
Raiden’s thoughts briefly touched upon the elephant in the room: Gabriel Colin had not spoken directly to him in nearly two months. Now’s not the time for an anxiety attack. Save it, he sternly told himself. You have a show to do.
“Taro-kun, I’ll do better tonight. I promise.” Raiden stood up. “Now get off my back.”
The bassist gave him a skeptical look. “You seem bothered by me, but there’s something else eating you.”
It’s what I’m not eating, Raiden did not say aloud. Since the tour started, he had averaged two feeds per week, mostly vagrants, tourists, and the occasional groupie; his energy level was dangerously low. Only three more nights. Then I get to see Gil. We’ll figure out our meals as we go. Improvisation.
“Let’s give ’em hell, guys.” Raiden cracked his knuckles and grinned. “How do I look?”
“Like you just rose from the dead,” Taro declared. “As beautiful as ever, you lucky fuck.”
Raiden blotted his nude lipstick. “Perfect.”
He sang better than he had in months.
Every time you touched me,
every time we reached the brink,
you still concealed the truth.
Half blue …
I’m not over you.
Raiden analyzed the audience. Is Justus here? Impossible. Nonsense. He’s gone. Better yet, dead. But there are no guarantees. His maker could be concealed in the crowd, waiting for the opportunity to take his revenge. Wouldn’t he have already done it by now? He let his voice slide into the broken wail he knew his fans expected to hear.
Half blue …
What’s the point in waiting?
Come get me, baby.
You can have the worst me you’re wanting.
Let’s leave in style, single-file pyre,
ignite the stage with our rage and ire.
Violet-red, gray, and sad …
Half blue …
It’s certain death to love you.
As he bowed his head, the audience roared, a myriad-eyed, multi-limbed tiger. They’d probably tear me apart if they knew what I am. Or worse, they’d want to be like me. They’d beg me to turn them. In the midst of their ravenous delight, he heard the voice he abhorred whisper his name: Raiden, I’m coming for you, love.
“Did you enjoy the concert?” Justus pecked Naomi’s cheek. “How was it seeing your ex again? It’s been a few ticks since you last beheld him in his element. Still a damn fine singer. Angel face, demon deeds.” He checked his reflection in the oval-shaped mirror on the wall of their casino suite. “The type you fancy.”
Naomi’s jaw twitched as she balled her hands into fists. “I remembered.”
Paternally, he patted her back. “What a beautiful brute he is?”
“What you did to us.” She double punched him in the throat. “Liar!”
With a strangled cough that ended in a staccato laugh, Justus manifested next to the bureau, out of her reach.
“Your indignance is endlessly entertaining,” he choked out. “Every time you remember, I get chuffed to bits.” His mirth vanished. “It’s also bloody irritating.”
“Wondering why the memory loss doesn’t stick?” She snapped the bedpost off and broke it over her knee. “I’m not as weak as you think.”
“You will be.” Justus pinched two knobs off the bureau. “These would make a lovely pair of pasties. Try them on.”
“Over my dead body.” Naomi resisted his mental pull by visualizing a tsunami subsuming his influence.
Justus gasped for breath. “The only body … you have … is a living corpse. And it belongs to me, dear wife.”
When he came at her, she feinted to the left then jammed the makeshift stake into his upper back. Yelping, he pulled it out and chucked it back at her; it embedded into her left quad. Scrabbling against the wall, she knocked the dresser on top of him. He heaved it aside, dragged her to the bed, and tossed her onto the mattress. With an inhuman howl, he mounted her. Naomi wound herself around him like a python and clamped her fangs onto his ankle. She tore out his Achilles tendon and spat it onto the floor.
Bellowing, Justus seized the back of Naomi’s head and repeatedly slammed it into the bedframe. “The payment for bodily and property damages is coming out of your pocket, love. I’ll make you trick for it. How does standing on the Sunset Strip with your tits hanging out sound? I’m sure you’d bring in a premium even with half your brain leaking out your ears.” He slammed her head into the frame one last time. “Bitch.”
Resist. Naomi went under the waves of unconsciousness with the word ringing in her ears.