Chapter 12

I don't know how my face looked, but it must have been alarming.

"What?" asked Eros. "Phil? What's the matter?"

"I know who did it," I said. "And it's all my fault."

"What do you mean?" Eros caught both my hands in his and squeezed them comfortingly. My eyes burned; in a few minutes, he would probably vanish from the room and never come back.

"It's a Muse from my department," I said. "The man with the purple eyes. I stole his idea fifteen years ago and now he wants revenge."

"You - ?" Eros' face crumpled into a look of surprise and reproach; he let go of my hands and leaned away from me. The Cupid folded his arms and stuck his nose in the air.

"You plagiarized your own colleague?"

"I know … " I really was crying now, as I hadn't let myself cry ever since I had watched Melanie take those sleeping pills. Melanie, thin as a starved bird in her little black dress, curled up on her rickety dorm room bed for her roommate to find.

"My last poet was such an unhappy girl," I explained. "She had no friends, didn't get along with her parents … she was starving herself, and nobody even noticed. So I authorized a target operation for her – a classmate of hers in college, another poet, named James."

Eros nodded in confirmation, probably recalling the file in his mind.

"He was supposed to rescue her," I said, closing my eyes as a fresh wave of memories hit me. "To be her friend, her lover … everything. That was my idea." James and Melanie on a picnic blanket on the campus lawn, arguing endlessly about structure vs. imagination. James and Melanie in sidewalk cafäs, at art galleries, in parks radiant with autumn leaves. Everything they had done together was fuel for more of her love lyrics.

"Her arrow went in really deep," I said softly. "But his didn't. The Cupid missed his aim, maybe, I don't know. In any case … he got bored with her. He dumped her after three months."

She had withered like a candle flame blown out. I've seen a lot of miserable mortals in my time, but weeks and weeks of that had really worn me down.

"She stopped writing. She ignored all my ideas. When I pointed out to her that a broken heart is like a frozen river, or that James was more present in his absence, she just cried or stared out the window. Except that her end-of-term portfolio for her Creative Writing class was due, and how was she supposed to finish it if she couldn't write?"

Eros and the Cupid were both watching me narrowly. "I think I see where this is going," said Eros. "You felt sorry for her, didn't you?"

"I – I didn't think it would matter so much," I said, knowing just how silly it sounded in retrospect. How could plagiarism not matter? "James and his Muse were on a roll right then. They were happy. I figured they wouldn't miss one tiny idea. The Muse just mentioned it to me in passing – how he was thinking that James might like to write about the big willow by their dorm. It was called the Kissing Tree because so many couples met under it. So I told Melanie, and of course she put a dark twist on it – weeping willows, etc. – and I thought everything would be okay. Until I found out James had written it too."

"Ah." Eros winced.

"And handed it in for his portfolio."

"Oh."

"And used the exact same opening line."

"Oh, dear. So, was she expelled?"

I shot him a glare. "Yes. Nobody believed her when she said it just happened like that. Not the professor, not the Dean, not even James himself. He said she must have been sneaking into his room and reading his notebook – like a stalker. His Muse just looked at me and didn't say a word. And that was the night Melanie killed herself. The humiliation, on top of losing the one person she'd ever felt close to, was too much for her. It was all my fault … "

I ran out of words and breath at the same time. It was too much.

For a long while, Eros just held me, stroking my back. The Cupid looked up at me with huge, watery eyes, all his suspicions gone.

"So you see … that's why I can't complain to Erato. Because then James' Muse would expose what I did to the entire department and I'd be stoking fires in Hades for all eternity. So I have to fix this myself somehow … "

"We will fix this," Eros interrupted, smiling again.

"You would … ?"

"I don't blame you, Phil," he said, looking right into my eyes to prove that he meant it. "You've always been too compassionate for a Muse. How many times have you asked me to match your poets with their true soulmates, when everyone knows it's the heartbreakers who cause the best work? Of course I'll help you win back your Marlon. Just wait and see."

He picked up his Cupid and, with a last wink for me, he vanished.