“Say you’re sorry, Brittney."
Wednesday, 17 April 2013, PM
Sterling: It is a week later, to the minute. The Man with the Silver Smile has many flaws, but unpunctuality is not one of them.
There are three short knocks at her door.
Genevieve: Gen has to move Ash out of the way with her foot before she can open it. The puppy huffs at her and sits on his haunches, and she reaches for the door, unsure of what to expect on the other side.
Sterling: It’s Sterling. And he’s brought… her. Glassy-eyed and oblivious behind him.
“Ah, Madam Genevieve,” he says, bowing and flourishing the cane that she knows by now holds a sword. “May we enter?”
Genevieve: Gen steps backwards, away from the door. A vague gesture of her arm welcomes the two them into her home.
Brittney. Fucking. Mitchell.
She looks the same, if that’s possible. How is that possible, even? Gen hasn’t seen her in years. She had stopped aging, though. Brittney just looks… plastic. Her pencil straight black hair is going gray at the roots, which means she’s due for a touch up soon, but the rest of her looks like it has seen the sharp side of a surgeon’s knife. Short, sculpted, pretty in a vacant sort of way. Though that might just be the look in her eyes, Gen notes.
Not that it’s any different than it was in high school.
Her tan is real. She’s got that going for her.
“What?” Gen looks at Sterling.
Sterling: “Up to you,” he says happily, and closes the door.
“Brittney, go sit on the couch.”
She does so with slow, plodding steps.
“Remind me what it was she did to you again? All the things she did to you?”
Genevieve: “You ever see those movies about girls in high school? You know the kind. New girl, befriended by mean girl, mean girl turns out to be mean girl, fake surprise twist.” Gen’s voice is calm, even.
“It wasn’t like that. She was my friend. Yeah, she sat next to me on a dare, but then we were… friends.”
Something twists inside of her.
“Until we weren’t. Third through eighth grade we were inseparable. Did everything together. I was in gymnastics, so she wanted to be in gymnastics. She was good. I was better,” Gen’s eyes flick toward Sterling, “but she was good. That wasn’t good enough for her, though. She didn’t like coming in second. There was another girl, Brittany. They thought they were so cute together with their matching names. They had it out for me. But this one,” Gen jerks her chin at Brittney, “she was the little ringleader. Started telling people all about me. Adopted. Unloved. Alien. White pussy. Told people my mom slept with the coach and that’s how we afforded lessons. That I slept with the coach so that’s how we afforded lessons. That I was so good on the beam because I was used to thick things between my legs.”
Her smile lacks humor. She’s never been this cold before.
“None of that really bothered me, you know. People always talked. Albino. Freak. Alien.” She shrugs. “What bothered me was the pranks. Itching powder in the chalk. Cutting up my leotards so they split during vault. Embarrassing things, really. Until they weren’t.”
She levels her gaze at Sterling.
“Did I tell you what prevented me from going to the Olympics? Because I should have, you know. I was good. Very good. People think I just didn’t make the cut. But that wasn’t the case, was it, Brit? I did make the cut. Right here.” She holds out her hand. There’s a very faint, thin scar that starts at her wrist and extends halfway down her forearm. “Palmaris longus. There’s not a lot of them on this side, so when you cut one it hurts. It hurts real bad.”
Genevieve: “There’s not a lot you do for wrist injuries. Ice. Rest. But who has time to rest with the Olympics coming, right? And all of our events include wrist mobility: vault, floor, uneven bars, beam. There’s no getting away from it. But when you can’t hyperextend your hand?”
There’s another slow shake of her head.
“That was it. Years of work. Ruined. She didn’t even compete, either, because she didn’t make the team. ‘Lacks imagination.’ ’Doesn’t stick her landings.’”
Sterling: “Sounds like you have some thoughts,” Sterling says mildly.
Genevieve: “I mean, really, maybe I should thank her. Wouldn’t have gone to UCLA without her. Wouldn’t have met Michael. Wouldn’t be here, now. Right?” She makes a sound. It might be a laugh.
Sterling: He looks to Brittney, and crosses to her in a few quick strides. He crouches and looks into the woman’s vacant eyes.
”Obey all commands beginning with your name. Wake up.”
The woman’s eyes open. She blinks. “What the fuck?”
Sterling: Sterling looks back at Genevieve. “Your ball, my conscience.”
Genevieve: She fantasized about this day for a long time. Every time she had to squeeze that stupid ball in the doctor’s office she imagined it was Brittney’s throat. Every hour she spent doing mobility and wrist exercises instead of practicing at the gym it dug a little deeper. For years she carried around that rage and hatred. The entire year of ’92, and then again in ’96, she dreaded listening to and watching the coverage.
“Isn’t that supposed to be you?” people would say when the gymnastic events began.
That knife had dug deep. Both of them, the one in her wrist and the one that twisted in her gut every time she had to hear something about the girls who had gone on. In the gym there was no escaping it. At school there was no escaping it. And there was Brittney. Always. Taunting. At school, at the gym, everywhere.
Like here, now, in the home that’s supposed to be hers. That’s supposed to be safe from things like this, from memories like these. The anger she thought she’d feel is… missing. Flat.
“As your conscience,” Gen says slowly, “I must advise you that this feels distinctly vengeful.”
Sterling: “It is,” he agrees cheerily. “Distinctly. Vengeance gets a bad rap, you know. It’s rather thirst-quenching.” He blinks. “Although, to be fair, that might only be when you’re drinking them.”
“What the fuck?” Brittney asks, louder. “Who—“ her eyes meet Gen’s. “G-genny?”
Genevieve: “Oh good, you remember me.” Gen smiles a little broken smile at the woman. Then she jerks the sleeve of her shirt back, thrusting her arm with its scar beneath her nose. “Do you remember this?”
Brittney’s eyes are wide. She shakes her head back and forth, lifts her hands as if to ward off the two of them.
“It was a joke, it was just supposed to be a joke, you weren’t supposed to get hurt—”
“You twisted the knife! What sort of joke is that? You had him hold me down and you dug it in there—”
She’s cut off by the sound of Brittney’s laughter.
“So what? So what? Did you think you had a chance at anything? That anyone saw you as more than a freak? You think the United States wanted your pasty ass representing them? You’re nothing. You’re an embarrassment. You’re—”
Gen’s fist takes her in the face. Brittney topples backwards and Gen is on her in an instant, furniture knocked aside as the two women roll around on the floor. The bitch is no match for the ghoul, though. She’s bigger and stronger besides. Soon Brittney is flat on her back while Gen unleashes on her from above. Both of them are screaming.
There’s nothing pretty about it.
Sterling: Maybe he should step in.
He scoops up Ash before the pooch can scurry away from him and tickles the canine’s belly. “Shh. Sorry I was in a bad mood last week.”
Meanwhile, Brittney’s spitting blood. “What the fuck! What is this! You freaky albino bitch, I’ll get you arrested for this, my brother-in-law’s a cop, you stupid cun—“
Genevieve: Gen knows how to throw a punch to make it hurt. Brittney’s nose flattens with a crunch before she can finish the word, and anything after that is lost in a nasal whine. Teeth fly out of her mouth on the next blow. Gen’s knuckles are bloody by the time she rolls off of her and to her feet.
“Get up.” The girl just groans. She doesn’t move. There’s still some fire in her eyes, though, and Gen has a cure for that. “Brittney, get up.”
Sterling: Brittney gets up, eyes full of hatred.
Genevieve: Convenient trick. Gen is going to have to ask Sterling to teach it to her.
But she isn’t interested in the slow shuffle of a woman following commands. Her hands fist through that long, black hair and she drags the bitch into the kitchen. Tells her to stand in front of the stove. Gen leans forward and flips one of the knobs to the side. The igniter clicks three times before the gas lights, blue fire wooshing to life.
“Say you’re sorry, Brittney.”
There’s no supernatural command there.
Sterling: “Wha’ da FUCK?!” Brittney squeals.
“Ooh, that didn’t sound like sorry,” chimes in Sterling. Ash is happily nibbling on his wrist and slurping at the stuff coming out.
Sterling: “Ah’m sorry! Ah’m SORRY!”
Genevieve: “Doesn’t really sound like you mean it, Brit. Tell you what. Why don’t you pick one? Your hands or your face.”
Sterling: Sterling whistles. The choice. She really has been paying attention.
“Wha—wha, ‘oo bitch! ‘Oo BITCH!”
Genevieve: “I can pick for you. Brittney, hold your hands over the fire. Just until you feel the heat. Then you’re gonna move it down every time I tell you to, how’s that?” Gen smiles. It’s a pretty smile. Shows all her teeth, something Brittney lacks now.
“What did you do after high school, Brit? Go off to college? Stick with gymnastics? You didn’t. You know how I know you didn’t? Because I looked you up. You only ever did it because I did it, isn’t that right? We did everything together. Brittney, put your hands closer to the fire. You feel that heat? Did you know,” she says slowly, “that it takes seven seconds for human skin to catch on fire? One hundred and forty degrees for fat to start melting. How much work did you have done, Brit? I think you’ve missed a spot. I could take care of that for you.”
Genevieve: “So I guess,” Gen continues conversationally while the woman squirms, “I guess I kind of want to know why you thought it was okay to mess up me when it wasn’t even something you went after anyway. Because that just seems like a waste. That seem like a waste to you, Brit?”
The only answer is a shriek.
“Huh. No. That doesn’t sound right.”
Genevieve: “Brittney, tell me, does that seem like a waste?”
Sterling: “How do you think she learned all that, Ash?” Sterling coos. “She’s very smart. And you’re a very thirsty dog. Yes, you are. Yes you are.”
“Puh-PLEASE!” Brittney screams. “Ah’m sorry! Ah’m SORRY!”
But she puts her hands closer to the fire. When the heat gets more intense, she tries to move them away. But it’s easy to hold her there.
Genevieve: “Huh. Doesn’t sound right. Brittney, put your hands a little closer. Why don’t you just touch the grate, actually. Dip your hand in, we’ll see if that seven seconds thing is really true. Touch it and you’re free, Brit.”
“If you don’t, Brit, I’m going to hold your face over the fire. Eyelid skin is the thinnest skin. That’ll melt. Your eyeballs will turn to goo, then just drip out of your head. I guess it won’t matter what the rest of your face looks like since you won’t be able to see it. But hey, if we walk down the street together maybe they’ll stare at you for a change. What do you think, Brittney? Think they’ll call you freak?”
That smile has turned manic. She grips Brittney by the hair, turns her face around so she can look into her eyes.
“Think of what a waste that would be.”
There’s a final act of defiance. A final curse slung at her from Brittney. Good thing it’s a single syllable, because that’s all the girl has time for. Gen lets go of her hair. She grabs the wrist instead and forces it down into the fire. Skin sizzles, blisters, and melts. Brittney screams. She struggles backwards and Gen lets her go, watching the girl cry on the ground. Her right hand is a twisted mass of crackled, red skin. The smell is the worst of it. Acrid. Pungent.
Gen’s hand is burned too, red and raw and glistening. She reaches out with the other one to turn off the stove to hide the grimace. She takes a breath to gather herself, then turns to find Sterling.
“Get her out of my house.”
Sterling: He does, but it takes a while. He shoos Ash away and talks to Brittney for a while. He explains how she was walking home from work, when she was assaulted by a homeless man in an alley. He had a lighter and a jar of gasoline and he held her down while she screamed. His teeth were yellowed and cracked. But nobody came. Her hand burnt. She must have run to the hospital in shock, when it was all over.
”Go there now,” he says, and she goes, her ruined hand hanging limp and loose.
It takes a while. He’s very thorough with the details.
When she’s gone, though, the smell still lingers.
He turns those dollar-green eyes to Gen.
“So you did learn something, in the years he kept you.”
Genevieve: She does not listen to him in the other room. She does not hear what he says, does not think about what she just did to the woman who, so long ago, ruined her life.
Maybe she thought he would fix it before he sent her on her way. Maybe she thought she would have time to run her hand beneath the lukewarm water—not cold, she had learned that lesson—before he returned.
Now her hand is burning at her side, and it is with every bit of concentration and focus that she does not look at it, that she meets his eyes instead. Is that judgement in his voice? She lifts her chin, defiant.
“I would be a poor student if I had not.”
Sterling: “And you are anything but that, Gen,” he says. “I’m impressed, further. Morality costs nothing from people who do not know the taste of sin. That you’re such a good conscience speaks to your strength of character. Or perhaps your flexibility.”
Genevieve: “The world isn’t black and white, as much as some wish it were so.”
Her hand throbs. She looks down at it.
“It had a price.”
Sterling: “It always does,” Sterling says. “Except in a wager, if course.”
“Are you going to tell me what a wicked thing I’ve done, tonight? Tempting my own conscience so?”
Genevieve: “It was,” she tells him, “it was a wicked thing to do. To bring her into my home. To tell me to let go, to do what I wanted.” Someone else might be shaken by these events. But Gen just looks at him, expression cool.
“Thank you. For the satisfaction.”
She holds out her hand. Her mangled, burned fingers. They had caught the edge of the flame. Nowhere near as bad as Brittney’s, but still red, raw, weeping. It hurts. Her fingers tremble. Her whole arm shakes.
“Have I earned a drink?”
Sterling: “You tell me, O Captain of my Soul.”
Genevieve: “Do you want that third step?” She regards him with head slightly tilted. “Do you want me to be bound to you? Obsessed? Unable to get you out of my mind? Do you think I am, perhaps, not already there?”
It scares her, that thought. Being completely beholden to him. She’s been there before. He’d seen here there before. A puddle of uselessness while they waited for it to fade from him, the other, the one whose name she doesn’t even think now.
“I don’t think you do,” she answers for him. “I think you like that I have my own will, to be honest. If I’m tied so tightly around you, how will you know if what I say is the truth or if it’s just what you want to hear?”
Sterling: He inclines his head. “I want my conscience honest, and grateful, and safe from poachers,” he says. “The bond would supply two, but not all three. And yet, I wonder if you want me as your domitor enough to only be half-bound. Rather a risk, I suppose.”
Genevieve: “You mean you can’t see the answer inside my head?”
Sterling: “I don’t read your mind all the time, Gen. The same reason I let you wear clothes most of the time.”
“Even though you look delicious without them.”
Genevieve: Some of that heat moves from her hand to her face.
“Then you’re not in there now? You don’t see what I’m thinking?”
What she’s remembering. His hand up her skirt. His lips on her neck. The delicate shudder that runs down her body at the memory.
Sterling: “Mmm,” he purrs. “Well, you know what they say about inviting my kind in. Would you like an encore, tonight? One that doesn’t end in cheating?”
Genevieve: “I can hardly cheat with fingers melted together.”
Sterling: “Then let’s fix that.” He tears open his wrist with his fangs, lets the vitae spill out over his shoes, the floor. “You don’t mind getting on your knees for me, do you?”
Genevieve: Her eyes shut for a brief moment. There are glasses in the kitchen. But this is hardly the first time he has done this to her, and she swallows whatever pride she has left. She drops to her knees in front of him, then lower, onto her stomach, to lick the vitae from the floor. As soon as it touches her tongue she forgets what it was she was so upset about in the first place. There’s not a drop that goes to waste, not a single platelet that she doesn’t lap up from the floor… and then his shoes. Her lips and tongue suck and slurp and lick until they’re clean, until it’s gone, and when she looks up at him again her mouth is bereft of any trace of it.
Her hand is fixed, healthy and whole, but Gen remains on her knees. This is where he put her.
Sterling: “Good conscience,” Sterling coos. “Sweet conscience. I don’t want to humiliate you, you know. You’re just so pretty down there.”
He pets her head, like she might Ash.
“Now, I think you’ve earned a treat. Would you like me to finish what I started, Gen? Or would that be immoral? To play with you the way I’d like to, even if you’d like it too?”
Genevieve: There’s something soothing in the way he speaks to her, even when it’s like a dog. Any shame she might have felt at being on her knees is gone. He didn’t have to beat it out of her; he just had to show her that she likes it down here.
“Is it?” she asks. “What you want? Or would it be a pity thing?”
Sterling: “Am I a monster moved by pity, Gen? You know me well enough by now. I am sentimental, but I appreciate beautiful things. And you are a beautiful thing.” He touches his fingers to her chin. “Follow me. I’ll show you.”
There’s a mirror in her apartment. Maybe it doesn’t see much use, but even a freak like her wants to check her appearance every once in a while. Sterling leads her there. She knows his kind don’t normally appear normally in mirrors, but this time he does. She can see his eyes twinkling at the top of the mirror, his chin resting on her head.
Before she can do much more than see that, she feels the buttons on her pants coming undone, her blouse being cleared from her shoulders.
He undresses her quickly, gently, perfunctorily, tapping her feet when he wants her to step out of things. Like he might a living doll.
She stares at herself in the mirror, naked, held by the monster.
Genevieve: It’s an effort to keep her eyes on the mirror. She doesn’t want to look at herself. She doesn’t want to see herself bared, especially knowing that he is looking, too. But he has her in such a way that it’s impossible for her to cover herself with hand and arm, and so she keeps her eyes averted instead, ignoring the way her heart flutters, ignoring the skin that prickles beneath his cool touch.
She doesn’t look, so she doesn’t see what he does. There is no beauty there. Just hard lines, awkward angles, not enough padding. She turns her eyes away.
Sterling: “Look, and see what I see,” he purrs, and touches her chin, gently forcing her to see.
“Beauty. Like a statue. But no statue ever tasted so good.”
He runs his fingers, cool but not cold as other monsters’, over her. All of her.
“So precious. So shy, even for so much beauty. Did your husband not tell you you were beautiful, Gen?”
Genevieve: She changed her mind. If this is what it means to be bound to him she doesn’t want it. She shakes her head. With her chin in his grip it’s a tiny movement, and it ends abruptly when he trails them down.
She almost tells him to stop. The words are in her mouth, ready to be set free if only she were to open it, but she doesn’t. Not until he asks.
“No,” she tells him.
She can’t remember a time when her husband had said that to her. Their wedding day, maybe, when she’d been dolled up. He’d never done this.
Sterling: “No? Then he did not know what he had.”
He drinks from her, and starts playing. He plays with everything, this man with a silver smile.
But this time, he finishes. She finishes.
“Beauty,” he whispers in her ear, as she’s made to watch.
Genevieve: There’s a moment where maybe she believes him. When his teeth sink into her and she comes apart in his arms, when every tightly wound bit of her unravels and it’s because of him, she believes him. That he thinks she’s beautiful. That she is beautiful.
Beautiful, and his.
There’s a certainty with which she knows that now as the sounds leave her body. She was made for him. For this moment. To be in his arms, bared to the world, with his hands on her and his eyes on her and his mouth on her. She doesn’t think anything will ever come close to this bliss.
Except that third step. And when it’s over and she’s trembling in his arms, her knees weak, her eyes on him in the mirror, she asks him for it.
Sterling: “Ah, my sweet,” he says, and he’s carrying her, carrying her naked body, to her bed. "Inevitably, I will. Of course I will. But now, rest. Be happy. And be my conscience. The nights ahead are dark, and I will need one… "
He tucks her in, strokes her fondly. Even kisses her forehead.
“Beauty,” he says again. “Now become a sleeping beauty. Sleep.”
Genevieve: The darkness claims her quickly. She is out, and in her dreams she sees herself as he does.