DISCLAIMER: This story is intended for an adult audience. It includes strong language and mildly suggestive content. Discretion is advised.
1.1 Ceiling Star Envy
The moment Mercy saw her, she knew why Miranda had lured her to the hole-in-the wall, dump-of-a-biker bar. Her friend, who normally dressed to tease in such circumstances, was sporting unassuming, baggy clothes and her auburn hair was swept up into a lazy bun.
Shit, Mercy thought. Maybe I can make a break for it.
Miranda absentmindedly twirled her empty highball glass in one hand while she scrolled through her phone with the other. Mercy backed towards the door, but not quickly enough before the woman sitting alone at the bar looked up and saw her expected company’s reflection in the mirror behind the bartender. Her face lit up and she spun around on her stool.
Here we go.
“Mercy! Get over here! Let me buy you a drink.”
Mercy’s shoulders slumped and she dragged her feet past the pool tables where shady, leather-clad fellows were laying down bets. As she made her way to the bar, she avoided making eye contact with anyone. She felt like a walking target as she was still wearing her work scrubs and her long, black hair was professionally styled in a ponytail at the nape of her neck. Though she kept her head down, she could still feel the eyes of burly ex-convicts and otherwise unsavory characters sizing her up.
Miranda eagerly patted the stool next to her, and Mercy climbed up. She slammed her keys and wallet on the counter and glared at her friend. Miranda’s crystal-blue eyes were bloodshot and puffy from what Mercy knew to be a long sobbing streak.
“I’m not doing this shit again, Miranda.”
“Bruce, get my friend here a double whiskey, please.”
“I’m still not doing this.”
“Mercy, please, you owe me…”
“How do I owe you? Have I not done enough?”
Miranda’s knuckles turned white as she clenched her glass.
“It didn’t work,” she choked.
The bartender gave Mercy a look as he slid the shots towards her. She could see the plea in his worn, wrinkled eyes for her not to cause trouble in his bar. She sighed.
“It did work,” Mercy said. “Whether or not it lasted is out of my hands. Have you ever stopped to think that maybe you should just let it go? Move on?”
Miranda was trying hard to fight back tears. Mercy could feel the stress emanating from the young woman. It tingled on her skin like her whole body was about to go numb.
“I love him,” Miranda sobbed. “I just want to feel his warmth again. I want him to look at me like he did before, like I was the most interesting person he ever met. Please, Mercy…”
“Every woman who has ever been broken up with feels like that. And you’re going to keep feeling that way if you don’t try to get through it.”
Miranda grabbed Mercy’s hand. It took all of Mercy’s willpower to not recoil. It was like her friend had one of those toy buzzers hidden in her palm. Normally, she could handle the static, but her friend’s aura was almost as bad as an entire room full of mourners at a funeral.
“Every woman doesn’t have a friend like you,” Miranda said. “Please, just one more time. If it doesn’t work, I promise I will never ask you again.”
Mercy knocked back her second shot, hoping it would take the edge off her voice for what she was about to say next. She signaled the bartender for another round.
“I told you, it worked. It has worked every single time. And, every single time, he has just chased after another skirt. Every single time, he has dumped you.” Mercy downed another shot. The burn of the alcohol paled in comparison to the fire in her gut. “You seem to be confused and think I have the ability to change people. Have you not learned by now? That’s not how it works. Like I said, I’m not doing this anymore.”
For a moment, Miranda was silent. Her silence was so heavy that it drowned out the noise of the metal music blaring from the jukebox in the corner and the gruff voices of the bar’s regular patrons. When she finally spoke, it was through clenched teeth and with a tone that could slice right through bone.
“You’re a real bitch, you know that? God, why I have I wasted so much time on you? After all these years, you still think that you’re better than me–No. You think you’re better than everyone! What makes you think that you can possibly know what’s best for me?”
“Hold up,” Mercy replied. “I never said anything about what’s best for you. Clearly, you’re not listening to me at all. What I’m trying to say is that, no matter how many times I fix this for you, the same thing is going to happen, and you know it comes at a price.”
“That’s why we’re here, Mercy. Look around, do you see anyone in here who doesn’t already have it coming?” Miranda lowered her voice. “I’ve even caught that perverted, old bartender checking out them skanks in his mirror.”
“What gives you the right to decide that anyone in here deserves to pay for your sorry relationship? Did you stick around to see the fallout of your last dose? Because I did. A girl slit her wrist in the bathroom. She almost died.”
“It’s not my fault she couldn’t take it,” Miranda said.
“Coming from the woman that’s begging me to fix her life like a damn drug addict. Do you hear yourself when you talk?”
That shut Miranda up. Mercy knew, though, that her old college roommate was too far gone. This was exactly the reason why she kept her power on a need-to-know basis. Unfortunately, her bleeding heart forced her to reveal it more than she would like. Plus, it would have been damn near impossible to live with Miranda if she hadn’t used her ability on her.
“If you don’t do this, I’ll go to every newspaper in a hundred-mile radius.”
Mercy grabbed her bag and shot out of her stool.
“Who’s going to believe you?” Mercy said. Without looking back, she added, “Thanks for the drinks.”
Mercy pushed herself past the crowd, inspiring more than a few dirty names for herself. She could hear Miranda calling after her, but she wasn’t about to turn around.
“Do you think I’m bluffing?” Miranda yelled. “You’re going to wish you helped me when they all come after you!”
Mercy’s phone had been buzzing on her glass-top nightstand for the past hour. About every two minutes, her voicemail alert had pinged until she finally had the good sense to switch it into silent mode. She stared blankly at her bedroom ceiling, admiring the way the moonlight streaming in through the little, rectangular window above her bed reflected off the hundreds of sparkles scattered across its popcorn texture. Some nights, when she was bored or having trouble falling asleep, she would try to count them like stars. If she was feeling especially whimsical, she would even wish upon them. Now, more than ever, she yearned that they had some kind of power to ease her of her troubles. When she gave it a second thought, though, she wouldn’t wish that burden on anything.
Well, Miranda, she mused, I guess I can see where you’re coming from.
Mercy sighed and grabbed her phone. She had forty-five missed calls from Miranda, six from Caleb, and thirty-two voicemails. She knew that her boyfriend was probably still waiting up for her to call him back. She swiped Caleb’s name across her phone screen and flopped back down onto her pillows. It barely rang once before his voice came on the line.
“Mercy?” Caleb said.
“Thank god! I’ve been so worried about you. What have you been up to?”
“It’s been a rough night,” Mercy said. “I’m sorry if I worried you.”
“Well, it’s all good now. Do you want to talk about it?”
Mercy was silent. She had met Caleb during their freshman year at college, and, five years later, she still hadn’t told him the truth about her. While it was refreshing to let go of that part of herself when she spent time with him, she hated not being able to be fully honest with him. Now wasn’t the time or the place.
“I’m just under a lot of pressure with work. I haven’t had a real day off in over a week. I was supposed to be off today, but a couple of patients got into a fight over what show they would watch which ended in the rec room TV being smashed. I had to go replace it before a hospital-wide riot ensued.”
“Well, it sounds to me like a vacation is what the doctor ordered.”
“Really? Well, you still have a few years before you can prescribe me anything. Speaking of which, how did your presentation go today?”
“Pretty well. I think my professor is more excited about my dissertation than I am.”
“Well, hey, that’s great that she’s really into your work already.”
“Nah, it means that I’m going to be under more of a microscope since my topic is her specialty.”
“I’m sure you’ll do fine. You haven’t stopped talking about abnormal child psychology since we met.”
“It’s kind of hard not to be interested when it’s been such a big part of my life.”
Mercy breathed in deeply. She hated when Caleb made passing comments about his younger sister’s condition. She knew the pain cut him deeper than he let on. She could feel it whenever she was with him. Normally, it was just a faint tingle as long as he wasn’t thinking about it. But it never fully went away, no matter how happy he was. And when he did think about Amy, it would take all of Mercy’s resolve not to leave the room. The nervous shock waves were so intense that she would almost stop breathing. What made it even worse was that Caleb had no idea that Mercy could feel what was going on in his head, and if he did, she knew he would do everything he could to fight it off. In those moments, she felt like an intruder.
“Have you seen her lately?” Mercy said.
“If it’s alright with you, I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Come on, Caleb. We’re in the business of talking about things like this. You know it’s not good to keep things in.”
“That’s why I go to therapy.”
Another heavy silence.
“Well, sorry, but you brought it up,” Mercy said. “You can’t expect me not to care.”
“I know,” Caleb sighed. “I didn’t mean to worry you. Let’s just move on. What are your plans next weekend?”
“Avoid work at all costs.”
“Well, I have some good news for you then,” Caleb said, his tone rising. “I get a three day weekend next week because my professor is going out of town for a conference. So, as long as I get everything done that I need to by Thursday, I’ll finally be able to come in to see you.”
Mercy squealed. She hadn’t seen Caleb since Christmas three months before. After graduation, Caleb had moved back to his hometown in North Carolina to pursue his masters in Psychology. Since then, it hadn’t been enough for her to talk to him every night on the phone. When she would venture out to downtown Slatesville with her colleagues, the loneliness was almost too much to bear as she’d watch the giddy undergrads cozy up to one another. Eventually, she had started making excuses whenever someone would suggest going out. All they’d ever do is complain about work, so she didn’t feel like she was missing much.
Mercy and Caleb chatted for another two hours about what they planned on doing when he came to Tennessee, especially what they were going to do to each other. Mercy was in serious need for some natural stress relief since she couldn’t use her gift on herself. Because of the consequences, she didn’t really have the desire to, either.
Finally, they were saying their goodbyes. It was after midnight, and Mercy knew she was going to hate herself at 6:00 AM when her alarm would blast her awake. For now, though, she didn’t care.
“I love you, Calebear,” Mercy yawned.
“Sweet dreams, Merciful.” Caleb said. “Oh, and one more thing…”
“Miranda called me earlier. She said she needed to talk to you.”
Mercy bolted upright. Her sleepiness evaporated as though someone shot espresso directly into her veins.
“Miranda called you? Since when do you guys talk?”
“We don’t. I don’t even remember giving her my number.”
Mercy shuddered. That bitch wasn’t playing. Not that Mercy had any doubt that Miranda would try something, but she didn’t think she would go as far as getting Caleb involved.
“What did she say?”
“She wanted to know if I had spoken to you. She said she had been trying to call you all night. Do you have any idea what it could be about? She sounded pretty upset.”
“Is that all?”
“Wait,” Caleb said. “Is there something going on between you two? Why don’t you seem concerned?”
Mercy felt trapped. Caleb was far too perceptive to convince him that nothing was going on. At this point, he knew she had been ignoring her phone, and acting defensively had only given her motive.
“I am, I just don’t like surprises. Did she say anything else?”
Caleb paused. Whenever he took his time responding, Mercy knew that he was treading carefully.
“She said that you were the only one who could make it go away. She sounded desperate. Mercy, if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. But don’t lie to me. You weren’t avoiding your phone because of work.”
Mercy couldn’t believe it. This whole time that they had been on the phone, her boyfriend had been fishing.
“You’re right,” Mercy said through gritted teeth. “I didn’t want to talk to you about it because it’s between me and her. If you’re so concerned about it, why didn’t you just bring it up from the start?”
“Oh, no, don’t you try to deflect this on me,” Caleb said in an annoyingly therapeutic tone. “Why didn’t you bring it up when I asked what was wrong?”
“Don’t bullshit me, Caleb. If you want to know something, ask me directly.”
“Okay, why did you lie to me?”
“You set me up! How is that okay? And why are you allowed to shut down any conversation about your sister, but if I choose to keep quiet about a spat with my old roommate, you act like I’ve betrayed you?”
Caleb was silent. For five years, they had rarely ever fought. None of their fights before ever involved their integrity as a couple. Mercy had never really given Caleb a reason to doubt her, despite the huge part of her she chose to hide. Until now.
“Mercy, there’s a good reason why I don’t talk to you about Amy,” Caleb said quietly. “It’s painful, and I don’t want to make you feel like you have to cheer me up because you can’t. The difference here is that I’ve not kept you in the dark about what’s going on with her. You, on the other hand, won’t even tell me what happened, and that makes me uncomfortable. It’s not like you to keep something secret.”
Mercy felt like she had been impaled from her heart to her gut. Caleb was right, of course. He had torn through her defense like a catapult. She only had two choices: lie about what happened with Miranda or change the whole dynamic of their relationship by telling him the truth. Or get thrown into her own hospital, because, surely, he wouldn’t believe her.
“Fine, but you can’t say anything to her about it,” Mercy sighed. “Miranda’s boyfriend wants to have a threesome, and he said if she didn’t find someone by tomorrow night, he was going to kick her out and sleep with his secretary. She wants me to do it because I’m the only one she trusts not to steal her man. Of course, I told her no, but she won’t leave me alone because she’s that pathetic. Do you see now why I didn’t want to talk about it?”