TWENTY-ONE – DESCENT INTO DARKNESS
“My God, Tony, what’s happening to you?” Jenni asked.
She’d come to his home unbidden, unexpected, just before sunset and roused him from a deep, dreamless sleep he didn’t even remember entering. His body felt drained, languid; Jenni’s presence burned like a wound.
She gazed at the paintings, drawings, and sculptures littering the room. All of them depicted the same woman, of course, Glory.
He could almost see Jenni’s thoughts in her confused eyes; not a trace of Jenni Malone remained in the A-frame. Even more, something about the work frightened her—though Tony was damned if he knew exactly what.
“What’s she done to you?” she asked, fear tinging her voice, despite her obvious efforts to suppress it.
Tony regarded her stoically, his sunken eyes peering out from under his brows. The luster seemed to have gone out of his gaze, only to be replaced by something dark and wonderful.
Jenni looked as though she hardly knew the man seated before her.
“What do you want?” he replied in flat, even tones.
Jenni wiped away the moistness welling at the corner of her eyes.
“The hospital called me with the results of your tests. They said they couldn’t reach you on the phone. They’d tried for days. Why didn’t you answer?”
“I unplugged the phone. I had work to do.”
“This work, Tony?” she asked, indicating the vast shamble of artwork. “Tony, this work frightens me. You frighten me. What’s happened to you?”
“What did the tests say?” he asked. Somewhere, deep inside, part of him hoped they might provide some explanation for how he felt.
She sniffed back a tear. “Nothing. Nothing’s wrong with you physically. You’re just a little anemic, that’s all. The doctor prescribed some vitamins.” She fumbled in her purse. “I picked them up for you.”
He pointed toward the kitchen. “Leave them on the table.”
She turned away, no longer able to restrain her tears. “God! I knew it was a mistake coming here!” She laid the pill bottle on the table.
Her tears stirred something inside him, a feeling he had almost forgotten. “Then why did you come?”
She spun at him, her face livid. “Oh, you complete and utter asshole! I came here because I still care for you—I still love you!”
She smeared away the tears with her fist. “And I hoped we might still have a chance together. But I can see that’s not going to happen now. Oh, God dammit. You’ve got me crying again. I told myself I was not going to cry.”
He blinked. “Jenni… I…”
She shook her head, her lovely straw-blonde hair falling across her face. “No! Don’t say it. Don’t say anything.”
She straightened her clothes and walked toward the door. “You just tell this woman, this Glory, that if I ever see her, I’ll rip her fucking heart out the same way she’s ripped out mine.”
“This isn’t about Glory,” he said flatly.
She spun on him, her anger overflowing, crashing into him. “What the fuck do you mean, it isn’t about Glory?! Who else has screwed up your life so much you don’t know what day it is? Who keeps you so entranced you don’t bother to talk to people who care about you? Who leaves those horrible purple marks on your neck? I should have known it wasn’t me the first time I saw one after that night you ‘slept’ on the beach.”
Tony put his hand to his throat. “There’s nothing wrong with my neck.”
“Goddammit, Tony, there’s something wrong with you. You’re sick! Maybe not physically, but sick inside. Sick in the head. For God’s sake, if you won’t let me help you, get some professional help.”
“I don’t need any help. I’m fine.”
“Then you can be fine on your own.” With that she ran out of the house and slammed the door shut behind her.
He didn’t even watch as Jenni’s Subaru sped down the driveway. Rather, he focused on the deepening darkness over the lake.
He knew that, soon, she would come to him.
He’d been rather surprised to find her not there when Jenni woke him. He could hardly remember a time when Glory hadn’t been so close he could almost taste her. She didn’t taste like other women. She was more subtle, like a different flavor of water. And the coolness of her body was like none Tony had ever known.
She needed the fire within him, and he was glad to give it.
As he watched the last rays of light disappear from the sky, he felt her hands on his shoulders.
He smiled. “I’ve been waiting for you,” he said.
He turned and kissed her. Then he whispered, “Let’s get to work.”
She smiled broadly, her white teeth gleaming in the dim light. “Soon, my love,” she said, “soon you will be like me. Then we will have all the time in the world.”
He kissed her again, loosed her dress from her shoulders, and let it drop to the floor.
“I’ve had just about enough of your bullshit,” Ivy said, bursting through the door without even bothering to knock. “Just what in Hell do you think you’re…?!”
The sight of Tony lying on the studio carpet, his naked body entwined with that of a strange woman, brought Ivy up short.
Tony got off his paramour and snarled at her. “Ivy, get out!”
She stubbornly rolled the sleeves of her shirt past her forearms as if preparing for a fight. Ivy’s blue-grey eyes flashed in the dim light. “Not before I’ve had my say!” Then she averted her gaze slightly. “For God’s sake, cover yourself up.”
Tony pulled on his sweatpants. Glory stood, unashamed and apparently unwilling to dress. Fire burned in her dark eyes.
“Ivy… Get out!” Tony repeated.
“Who is this woman?” Glory asked. “Why is she here?”
Something in her voice sent a chill down Ivy’s spine.
“My cousin, Ivy Frost,” Tony replied. “She’s not supposed to be here.”
“Actually,” said Ivy, “I think my timing is just about perfect. At least now I know this woman isn’t just in your head.” Ivy had recognized Glory from Tony’s paintings once he’d gotten off of her. “I oughtta give you a fat lip, bitch!”
Tony stepped protectively between his cousin and Glory, though Ivy couldn’t tell whom he was protecting.
“Ivy,” he said, “you shouldn’t be here.”
Ivy ignored him. “What the two of you have done to Jenni is unforgivable. It’s just about the lowest thing I’ve ever heard of.
“Tony, I don’t know what’s gotten into you. You were never like this before.”
“I’m fine,” insisted Tony. “The doctors said so.”
Ivy laughed, a sharp, bitter laugh. “Ha! You think you’re okay? Look around, cousin!” She waved her hand at the mass of artwork filling up the studio. “I’ve seen art like this before… In Saint August—in case studies of the mentally ill.”
Tony looked around the room but appeared to notice nothing wrong. “It’s the best work I’ve done in my life,” he said.
“It’s not,” replied Ivy. “It’s frightening… perverse. As if something’s rotted away inside your soul.”
Glory was looking around the room now, too, Ivy noticed. She thought she saw a flash of realization in the other woman’s dark eyes. Ivy tried to hold Glory with her gaze, but found doing so made her head spin.
Ivy blinked, trying to recover her equilibrium. She said, “Glory, whoever you are, can’t you see what you’re doing to him?”
Glory looked around, as if confused.
“You’ve twisted something inside of him; made him someone he isn’t—someone the old Tony wouldn’t like.”
“I…” began Glory, but she didn’t finish the sentence.
“Can’t you see what you’re doing to him?” Ivy asked, pleading. “Can’t you see you’re destroying him?”
Tony rushed across the room and grabbed his cousin by the shoulders.
“That’s enough, Ivy!” he shouted. “I won’t have you saying any more. I love Glory and I want to be with her forever! Get out before I throw you out!”
Ivy brushed his hands away.
“I’ll go,” she said, fighting down the anger inside. She looked at Glory. “But you think about what I said.” She turned and left.
Tony’s head throbbed as the door to the A-frame slammed.
If the pale woman heard Ivy’s last words, she gave no sign.
Tony walked across the room to Glory, seized her in his arms and kissed her.
He didn’t even notice as she failed to kiss back.