Once upon a time, a man sold his soul to the devil for immortality. But mankind is foolish, and the devil has had millennia to perfect his tricks.
At the other end of the world, a girl prayed to her gods for absolution and offered her life in return.
On a night so cold that the stars froze in the sky, two exchanges were made: one of selfishness, and one of selflessness. So the devil and the gods struck a deal, and that day the destinies of two souls intertwined.
Like two trains built without brakes, their collision course was set.
My head hurt like hell. I groaned, rolling over.
Something yowled and I saw the evil yellow of claws before they dug into my arm. I screamed.
Jocelyn ran in, wearing no pants and a bright pink tank top. Her blonde hair was sticking up in multiple directions. She looked around frantically. "What's going on?"
"Your fucking cat," I snarled as the perpetrator herself darted off my bed in a cloud of putrid yellow fur. "She followed me into my bed again."
"I told you to keep your door closed!"
"It's not my fault your cat's fucking obsessed with me!"
"Belinda is a very sensible creature," Jocelyn snapped, snatching up the infernal ball of fur and nuzzling it close to her face, all previous panic forgotten. Even then, the little monster strained toward me like it just couldn't resist taking a chunk out of my face.
"Ugh," I muttered, leaning forward and pressing a hand to my forehead. For the past couple days, I'd felt like Thor was throwing a temper tantrum inside my cranium, and no amount of hot tea and long naps could make him put down his goddamned hammer. Also, Jocelyn had been more intolerable than usual, and I would swear on my life that she'd been waking up in the middle of the night and opening my door to let her cat in. Actually, I would wager that she'd been personally depositing the infernal beast on my bed. A normal person would've moved out already if she and her roommate hated each other's guts the way Jocelyn and I did, but I obviously had some dormant masochism. That and too many other worries on my plate.
"Late night?" Jocelyn sneered.
"Sorry, I tend to stay up studying because I care about my future," I retorted, even while my head ached in response. The scarlet anger of Jocelyn's rage skulked around my periphery, and I resisted the urge to just let my head fall back on the pillows.
Jocelyn gave me the stink eye but made no response. We all knew her daddy was paying for her share of this apartment. She was spoiled beyond belief, and I was amazed she hadn't moved out of our shared apartment to a mansion already, but sometimes I felt like we were in a silent war, eking out the process to see who would snap first.
"Nice panties, by the way," I said smugly. She looked down and gave a surprised squeak before glaring at me and stomping out of my room, slamming the door behind her.
I settled back into my blankets, rubbing my temple. I hadn't been able to focus on work for the past week because of the confounded blazing in my skull. In addition to that, my synesthesia was acting up more than usual, colors attaching themselves to every change in tone or distant radio song.
My phone began vibrating, and I blindly reached for it, knocking down my lamp in the process. Swearing, I turned on speaker. "Hello?"
"Rev, where are you?" Worried tones of purple and gold leaked into my vision. It sounded like my good friend Heidi, who also happened to be my the receptionist for the building I worked in. Right now, she was sounding distinctly more receptionist-y than she normally did, but why would she be calling me at nine in the morning? Was she having a bad hair day?
"In bed?" I asked. "Am I supposed to be somewhere?"
"Um... yeah?" Now Heidi seemed just as confused. "Work? It's Monday?"
I jolted upwards, banging my head on the low ceiling of my bedroom. "Shit!"
She gave a hushed laugh. "See you in twenty." Then she hung up.
I shot into a pair of red jeans and white peasant top, eyeing my frumpy black hair in the mirror. I'd finger comb it on the train.
When I rushed out into the office gasping for breath, an unruffled Heidi was standing behind the check-in counter in a form-fitting blouse and black pencil skirt. "You look like you just rolled out of bed," she said, smirking. I looked around before flipping her off. It was quite unprofessional of me, but I felt like I was suffering the effects of a rager and my nerves weren't in the best of shape right now. "He's been looking for you," she said with a shrug.
"Who's he?" I asked, dread seeping into my voice.
"The big boss. Head honcho. Dave."
I groaned. "Bye, Heidi," I tossed over my shoulder as I broke into a run towards the elevators, hoping I didn't slip.
"I like the pants!" she called after me as I breathlessly ran into the elevator and stabbed the button for the twenty-fourth floor.
I collapsed against the gleaming wall of the elevator for the ten seconds that it took to get to the office of Dynamic Records. Quickly, I straightened my clothes and fluffed my hair as I speed walked to my boss's office. People cast me looks, and I slowed down to a more leisurely pace, sending them charming smiles. Relax, relax, you'll only get fired for being so horrendously late. No big deal.
I paused to recollect myself at Dave's door. It was the door to hell itself, and I needed to prepare. The other week, Dave had threatened to slice one of his interns in half with his AMA trophy. That was for putting one sugar packet in his coffee. One. Sugar. Packet. I put five in mine, and some days I still couldn't even taste the sweetness.
Gulping, I knocked.
"Come in!" I analyzed his tone furiously. Unfortunately, my synesthesia wasn't helping one iota, choosing now of all times to lie dormant. For once, no colors were dancing around, right when I needed to tap into my freak abilities.
Meekly, I pushed open the doors. Dave's office always had the capacity to strike me speechless for a full minute. An entire wall had been converted into shelves for hundreds of records. The opposite wall was plastered with framed albums of the greats, some signed and some from when they first rose to fame. And right between these two walls was an unrivaled view of the city in all its glitter and glory. The office was the very definition of lookgasm, if such a thing existed. There was a rumor around the office that Dave had committed murder to get this office, and I wasn't ashamed to admit that I totally would've willingly committed patricide to get a view like that. However, the opportunity had never presented itself, so my father was still very much alive.
And right in the middle of all the beauty sat Dave in his creaky leather chair, a glass desk in front of him. I always found it strange that his desk was so immaculate; honestly, I had no idea what he did in his office. It looked like something out of a magazine, not somewhere you'd actually work. He had a cup of coffee on his left (no sugar) and his laptop on his right. Currently, he was stroking his handlebar mustache and examining me.
"Hi Dave," I said, sitting in the tasteful but uncomfortable white chair in front of his desk. "You were looking for me?"
To my surprise, he said nothing about my being late and cutting me with the sharpest music awards he owned. Instead, he asked, "Have you heard of Ruit?"
"A little," I said. They were a band that had risen to popularity two years ago and had become a huge sensation. Three guys, one girl. They'd already released their first album, which had shot up to the top 10 on all the typical avenues like iTunes and Spotify. From what I'd heard, however, three quarters of their popularity came from their good looks. "A fangirl-driven enterprise, to be certain," I muttered.
Dave was still looking at me in his creepy way. I'd always tiptoed around him, even though as an A&R rep, I answered directly to him. His handlebar mustache was especially intimidating, and sometimes I could swear it twitched like it was an entity on its own.
"Well, you're not wrong about the fangirl thing," Dave said, scrolling through something on his laptop. "Says here that one of the guitarists got molested by a drag queen at five in the morning. Apparently the lipstick was made from some sort of permanent ink, and he can't wash it off."
A snicker rose to my lips, but Dave turned his attention to me and I quickly schooled my features into an impassive look. "Sounds quite unfortunate, sir."
"Hmm," Dave mused. "You wouldn't happen to know any of these guys, would you? They're all the same age as you."
"What are their names?"
He squinted at me. "Shouldn't you, as an A&R rep, know who they are?"
Busted. "Uh, um," I stuttered.
He was already moving on. "Jason Keenan, drummer. Maura Ryan, bassist. Match Jackson, guitarist-"
I stood up the moment the last word left his lips. Match Jackson. A permanent scar of indigo loss across my memories.
Dave peered up at me, eyebrow raised. "I wasn't finished."
I sat down again. Probably not the best response when I was an hour late to work and my boss had an array of sharp-edged albums at his disposal. "Go on," I said, waving my hand around blindly.
"No, I think I have my answer."
"I know all of them," I said hurriedly, hoping to cover my error.
"What was it? A torrid affair with the drummer? Did you play flip cup with the bassist?"
"Don't be ridiculous," I snorted, unable to get a quip in before Dave ruined life as I knew it. "Everyone knows Jason is gay. And Maura would break the cups. Plus, she's kind of scary."
"Aha, so it's what I thought." He pointed a finger straight at me, and I steeled myself. "The guitarist."
"Okay," I quickly blurted. "I went to high school with all of them. I'll be honest, things got a bit weird between Match and me, and I cut off contact with them after graduation. It would be a bad idea for me to get involved with them at all, but please don't fire me."
Dave blinked at me. He reached out an arm, and I flinched. All he did was curl his hand around his mug, which had "I'm the boss" in giant capitals, and take a sip. "Well then."
"I'm not going to fire you," Dave said, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. "Even though you're pathologically late and you have as much work ethic as a squirrel." He held out a finger when I opened my mouth. "Telling me you've found the next Justin Bieber is hardly an accomplishment, Reverie. Something you seem not to understand is that there are twerpy, flippy-haired little boys all over the internet. Leave them to Usher, okay?"
I grunted in assent.
"Reverie, you're one of the most talented A&R reps in our department. You shouldn't forget that, and I shouldn't let you. So I'm about to give you a high-profile assignment and trust you to execute it properly."
This didn't sound good. This was a threat masked as an honor. I knew I wouldn't be able to refuse it, whatever it was, and I had a sinking feeling that Dave had planned this whole thing. It wouldn't have been hard for him to find out that three of Ruit's members had gone to the same hundred person high school as me.
"I have in my hot little hands," Dave said, materializing two shiny black passes out of nowhere, "Two tickets, backstage passes included, to Ruit's concert in Terminal 5."
I stared at the passes, not comprehending.
"Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to take them, bring your boyfriend, girlfriend, whoever, and go enjoy yourselves." He slid them forward, and I stared at them like they were poisonous. Waiting.
"You're a smart girl, Reverie. You always look for the catch. So here it is. Ruit's contract with Hartford is close to expiring. After the concert, I want you to ditch your boyfriend or girlfriend, and go seduce a contract signing out of Ruit."
"Uh, sir," I said. "That's really not a good idea." Hartford and Dynamic had a rivalry founded on stealing and mocking each other, especially since they were both located only blocks away from each other and were the two major record labels in Manhattan. Last year, at our Christmas party, someone from their IT department snuck into the party and played "Rape Me" by Nirvana instead of "Hey, Soul Sister."
"How long have I been a manager here?" Dave asked me, his voice frighteningly tranquil. I could see the malicious black tendrils weaving back and forth through his words, cluing me into his ulterior motives.
"Longer than I've been A&R rep?" I squeaked.
"Exactly. Just because you're a T-Rex in the music industry doesn't mean your brain is any larger than a peanut. Trust me, and we will all be fine." He reclined back with a smug look on his face. "Besides, if you need any more incentive, I can always have a little talk with HR about your recent job performance."
I snatched the tickets and almost saluted before I caught myself. "I'm on it." Then I paused. Dave needed me. I doubted any of the other reps had gone to the same high school or had the same connections as me. To Dave, I was integral to his plan to steal Ruit from under Hartford's nose. He might have been serious about letting me go, but right now he was focused on getting a major band to sign under us, not firing a crappy employee. And I was the key.
I leaned forward on his desk. "I'll do it, on one condition. I get your office. For a week."
To my surprise, Dave roared with laughter. He slapped the desk, making everything shake precariously. "Already plotting to dethrone me. I like it." He stood up, holding his beefy palm out to me. "You've got a deal. Get them over here. Use every trick in your arsenal. After all, if you can seduce their guitarist, I have no doubts as to your prowess."
His thundering laughter, tinged with the magenta of amusement, followed me out the door.
I couldn't believe I was actually doing this. I was about to manipulate my high school flame so that he would sign under our record label and consequentially prevent me from being fired and also upgrade my office space. I was literally the worst human being on the planet.
But that office... I could already imagine myself in there. If I had an office like that, I would go to work every day.
Finishing my makeup, I opened my door. Jocelyn was sitting at the dining room table, a psychology book propped up in front of her.
"Are you even reading that?" I said snarkily. She jolted, and her cell phone fell on the ground. We both looked at it, and then at each other. I knew my expression was self-congratulatory.
"You look like a stripper," she said, narrowing her eyes at me.
"At least I use my own means to make money," I snapped back. It was true; I did look slutty. My outfit of choice was a firetruck red tube top and my highest heels. If I was going to get Ruit to sign, I needed to make an impression. Also, Match had always liked my legs.
I was rapidly degenerating from respectable to reprobate.
"Where are you going, anyway? A men's club?" I knew there was curiosity in Jocelyn's voice. Being an A&R rep was a glamorous job, and I knew she followed popular culture as much as anyone.
"I'm actually going to watch Ruit perform," I said smugly, even though I didn't even have any idea what genre they were. I really needed to get back on track with current trends. But her eyes widened imperceptibly, and she harrumphed, settling back into her chair and idly flipping through her textbook's pages.
"I actually still have an extra ticket," I said dolefully. "I wonder what I'll do with it?"
Jocelyn looked like she was in pain, and I knew nothing in her psych book could be causing her such torment. "I mean, it'll go to waste if I don't use it. I suppose I can give it away..."
She seemed to be shaking, and I saw her visibly take a deep breath before she closed her eyes and said, "I'll take it."
I eyed her, trying to keep the smirk off my face. "And why should I give it to you?"
"I'll take out the trash every day," she blurted. "I'll vacuum. Just please, please let me come."
"Hmm." Today seemed to be the day for deals, so I made a gamble. "You have to do all those things, and you have to lock your pet monster in the garage at nine every night."
She deflated a little. But finally, she nodded. "Her name is Belinda," she mumbled.
I wanted to jump for joy. Finally I could sleep in peace without nightmares of tiny claws digging my eyes out.
"I'll be right out," Jocelyn said, dashing into her room. She emerged minutes later in a dress only marginally less slutty than mine and heels just as high. I raised an eyebrow and she just shrugged. "A girl's got to flaunt." We caught a taxi to Terminal 5 and I gleefully flashed our passes once we were there, bypassing all the sad-eyed bystanders.
Jocelyn disappeared the moment we entered, but it wasn't like I'd expected her to stick with me. The awkward and silent taxi ride hadn't exactly made us best friends.
I enjoyed the flashing lights and the heat that came from so many bodies crowded together. It was at music scenes that my synesthesia became strongest; lustful red and anticipatory yellow flickered everywhere, and the color coming from the opening band's lyrics created something of a muted rainbow in my periphery. The way I was able to visualize music was my secret weapon and what made me such a coveted A&R rep. I could immediately see the colors and how well they matched to the audience's vibe. It was a talent, and I wasn't going to waste it.
The intensity of the crowd's anticipation was almost palpable, and I knew Ruit was going on now as the cheers escalated and the opening band left the stage. And then they were on stage, four shadowy figures whose features were twisted under the neon lights. Maura hadn't changed at all; she was still Amazon tall, though her hair was now dyed bright green. Jason sat behind the drums, stoic and intense. He always looked like the kind of guy who could beat the shit out of you, and the tattoos on his huge biceps added to the effect. Match was almost exactly as I remembered him. Good looking, blonde, and muscular, he looked like the kind of guy who could protect you from anything. We hadn't left high school on the best of terms, and I had no idea what he would do if he saw me.
They dove into the song, a mad burst of energy that had my synesthesia swirling and the audience going wild. Then the vocalist stepped forward, and everything went silent.
That's what it felt like, anyway. But I knew that the crowd was still going, and I saw people's mouths open but heard nothing coming out of them. In that brief, preternatural silence, I realized my headache had completely subsided, giving me a moment to fully take in the man in front of me. He was tall, lithe, and possessed all the features of a GQ model, but something about him screamed danger, maybe because of the unforgiving slant of his eyebrows or the forbidding curl of his lips.
Then he opened his mouth to sing, and my world exploded.
Colors assaulted me. Before, my synesthesia had always crept along the borders of my vision, a constant shadow in my daily tasks that made itself known in tones and songs. But now it came at me straight-on, and as the vocalist sang, I felt like his voice had draped itself over me like warm velvet. In between his breaths, brown bitterness and red rage swept towards me in torrents. I could barely hear the actual lyrics, and I felt strangely on the verge of passing out.
His dark eyes skimmed over the audience and met mine, and I saw his eyes widen as something electric passed between us. Like I was being drawn by a magnet, I moved towards Ruit. Towards him. There was something so infinitely familiar in his presence, and even though I could barely see through the rioting colors of my synesthesia, I continued to tunnel forward, hearing the angry protests of the people I was plowing through. The more lucid part of me wondered at my irrational behavior and hoped Jocelyn was getting laid, because someone better be having some damned fun right now, and it certainly wasn't me.
The colors were beginning to clear up a bit, and I could see. Someone screamed at the band to take off their shirts, and the lead vocalist-I really had to find out what his name was-heeded the requests, tossing his black shirt into the crowd, much to the delight of rabid fangirls who descended on the fabric like vultures. His body was as beautiful as his face, to my increasing revulsion. Was that an eight pack?
He made a show of unzipping his pants, a smirk curling his perfect lips. The crowd got even rowdier, and I couldn't have moved even if I wanted to. Dazed, I looked up to see that his eyes were still burning into me, as if this show he was giving was only for me.
Jocelyn appeared at my side. "Let's go," she whispered, and I let her tug me away.
"I thought you were getting laid," I muttered sluggishly before everything went black.