We sat at the bar toasting in celebration to how well our gig had gone and our upcoming meeting with the record label. We were one step closer to my dream of selling out stadiums. It was the four of us and Delilah along with Mary and her boyfriend, David, who I didn't particularly care for, but I wasn't going to let him spoil my mood. The boys had the luxury of changing out of their sweaty performing clothes, but being the silly muse that I was, I had forgotten to bring a spare outfit, so I was still wearing my black and white leotard. While I looked fabulous without a doubt, I was somewhat uncomfortable sitting in my own sweat. I dried off with a towel but showering was out of the question when I had nothing to change into. I couldn't just fabricate new clothes out of thin air because that would require my magic. I was tempted to sing myself a fresh outfit discretely, but everyone was staring at me and there was no way I could do it without getting caught. The fame was so new to me. I was taken aback when I was approached and asked for autographs. It was a fantastic feeling, one that I never wanted to end.
The fame was so new to me. I was taken aback when I was approached and asked for autographs. It was a fantastic feeling, one that I never wanted to end.
"It was so nice of the manager to give us free drinks." Brian remarked.
"Well he owes us." Roger said. "I doubt he's ever gotten a crowd that big in his club before. There's no way Lost Luggage and all the shitty bands he normally books could ever draw in as much attention and money as us."
"Lost Luggage? Are they the band that plays on the beach sometimes?" David inquired. "I think I actually fancy them."
"After watching us?" I cried. "You're joking, darling!"
Before David could elaborate, Roger threw beer in his face. Mary gasped, and David looked about ready to beat up our drummer. I burst into laughter as Deaky lowered his head in embarrassment, and Brian shook his head disapprovingly.
"We should go." Mary said abruptly. "You were brilliant, Freddie...All of you were brilliant."
"No! Darling, don't go!" I protested rising alongside her. "The night is still young! Stay. Have some more drinks with us. Roger didn't mean it."
"Piss off, Fred! Lost Luggage sucks, and they tried to murder me, so I damn well meant it."
"Okay I think you've had one too many beers." Brian reprimanded, confiscating Roger's drink.
"Wait Lost Luggage tried to murder you?" Deaky asked.
"It's a long story that involves a pair of maracas." Roger dismissed. "Now give me back my beer, Brian!"
I followed Mary and David to the door. Delilah was trailing close behind me. "Are you sure you don't want to stay?" I begged. "Mary, darling, we still have so much to catch up on."
David put his arm around his girlfriend possessively. I rolled my eyes. Even if I wasn't gay, what was wrong with being friends with someone of the opposite sex? Did David really think that I was romantically involved with Mary? I just missed her. That was all. I was content in my own relationship.
"It's late, Freddie. I have work tomorrow morning." Mary said. "I'll come over for tea next week. How does that sound?"
"Mary, let's go." David urged.
"Well um thank you for coming." I sighed. "You brought us good luck."
I started to follow them out, but I stopped at the magic detectors by the door, watching the couple leave. Mary turned back at me and waved with a small smile. I blew her a kiss. I strained my ears and was able to pick up on their conversation as they walked hand in hand to their car.
"I can't believe Roger did that to you! I hope you still had fun though. Freddie is so amazing, don't you think? I mean all four of them are very talented, but Freddie just has this energy to him that draws you in. I don't think I've ever seen a performer like him before." Mary raved.
"He is really good, but I have a bad feeling about him." David murmured. "I've never encountered a muse before, but he matches the description perfectly. You ought to be careful, Mary. Freddie may just have you under his spell."
Fuck! Clearly, David knew nothing about muses. I didn't cast spells on people like a bloody wizard, and even if I could I would never do that to Mary. Still, David was somehow onto me. Would Mary keep my secret from her boyfriend? What if this all got out of hand and I ended up back in the lab? Maybe Brian was right, and the band was a bad idea. But when I was up on stage where I belonged, I had never felt so alive. There was no way I'd give that up even if it meant risking my life. As long as I didn't glow, there was no evidence. No one could prove a thing. I was just another human who happened to have an impressive singing voice.
"Don't be ridiculous, David! Freddie's not a muse. It's talent, not magic." Mary jumped to my defense. "You're just jealous that the two of us are so close."
"I guess you're right." David accepted. "Although it is kind of strange the way he talks to his cat and no one bats an eye. Maybe he's just very slightly mad."
"People talk to their pets all the time. It's no big deal." Mary replied flippantly.
'I'm not his bloody pet! I'm his best friend!' Delilah hissed.
"Calm down, darling. Why must you take everything so personally? Mary's trying to help us. We want her to convince David that I'm not a muse because things could get ugly if he finds out the truth. Humans don't talk to cats, so they consider them to be pets instead of friends. We need to keep up appearances, but it's nothing more than a ruse." I promised.
Watching David help Mary into the car and give her a kiss, I suddenly no longer felt in the mood to celebrate. Delilah followed me back to the table where my bandmates were enjoying themselves as they should after such a successful gig. Roger was trying to retrieve his beer, but Brian held it up high over his head, making him jump for it. The two were laughing of course demonstrating that it was all fun and games. Deaky meanwhile was dancing around his chair, and I knew this signified that he was quite adorably drunk. I couldn't help but smile as I returned to my family.
"Freddie!" Deaky slurred grabbing my hands. "Come disco with me!"
"Okay, my disco darling! Let's dance!" I was quick to distract myself and dance with the drunken bassist. I was even starting to have a bit of fun, but then Delilah jumped up onto the table, meowing loudly to get my attention. As much as I wanted to continue this dance with Deaky, I couldn't ignore my precious kitty.
"What is it, dear?"
"You had a full bowl of kibbles before we left." I reminded her. "You can't be that hungry."
'You owe me tuna steak! You lost our bet, remember?'
"Well I am a man of my word." I sighed. "I did promise you tuna steak and you've been a very good girl."
'Yes I have.' Delilah purred. 'So can we go to the fishers' market now?'
"Now?" I cried. "Delilah, it's the middle of the night. I doubt the marketplace open."
"Actually the marketplace is open until 3:39 AM." Deaky said with precision despite his slurred speech. "I would know. I do all of our grocery shopping. It's not too far from here either. You would have enough time to go get Delilah her fish and come back."
"John, darling, I love you, but I think I prefer you sober." I shook my head. There was no way I could resist Delilah's large pleading eyes. 'See, Deaky wants me to get the tuna steak too. You can't say no to him, Freddie.' She said. "Alright, fine. You win." I caved.
"I know you, Freddie." Deaky laughed. "You can't be happy unless your cat is well taken care of, and I want you to be happy. Happy! Happy! Happy!" He began to hop in place like a cute bunny rabbit.
"Alright, now you're done too." Brian declared grabbing Deaky's drink in addition to Roger's.
"You're no fun, darling." I pouted. "Let them drink! They've earned it." I joined Delilah up on the table so I could reach the drinks that Brian held over our heads. I gave the mugs back to Roger and John. "Now just make sure you stay sober because you're the one driving us home, Brian."
"But I wanted to drive!" Roger complained.
I stepped down from the table. "Keep blondie out of trouble." I told Brian. Drunk Roger was a liability while drunk Deaky was nothing more than a little puppy dog, so I was sure he wouldn't need as much looking after. "I'll be back soon."
"Wait. You're not really going out to the marketplace by yourself? It's the middle of night, Freddie. Can't this wait until tomorrow?" Brian cried.
"Oh, I won't be alone. I'll have Delilah with me." I assured him.
'I've got his back. My muse protecting skills are sure to impress you!' Delilah proclaimed. "He can't understand you, dear, but yes, I know you'll keep me very safe so Brian doesn't have to worry." I smiled down at the cat.
"Freddie, I really don't think this is a good idea. Why don't we come with you?" Brian suggested.
John stepped in between us. "Um..."
"Not now, Deaky." I dismissed him and turned back to Brian. "I know you think you're trying to protect us, Brian, but you're not our father. We can do things on our own. We're all adults. Well, John's only 19, but I can take care of him for you. You don't have to worry."
"You say that, but you and John were both a mess before you met me, and even now I'm still constantly bailing you out of danger. Face it, Fred, you need me." He exclaimed.
"I don't need anyone! It's always just been me and Delilah against the world, and we turned out fine, now didn't we?"
"Yes, Deaky, what is it?" I at last acknowledged him.
"Roger's in a bar fight."
As Brian went to go break it up, I swallowed another magic suppressant just to be on the safe side. Then I walked through the magic detectors and out the door. Delilah followed.
'I think you were a little too harsh with Bri.' Delilah said. 'He only wants to keep you, Roger and John safe from the hunters, lab rats, and demons. You can't blame him for being overprotective. He's seen firsthand the messed up stuff that could happen if you're caught.'
"That's true, but I can take care of myself, and John and Roger should be allowed to get drunk if they want to. He's not the boss of us. If I wanted to take orders, I would've stayed with Paul."
'Don't you dare say that!' She hissed. 'Paul was holding you prisoner, Freddie. He was not our friend! We've been through this a thousand times. He manipulated you into thinking he was helping you, but really it was enslavement. He didn't care about you. He only kept you alive for your voice. Deaky, Brian, and Roger are the ones who really love you. Possibly the only ones besides me of course.'
"You're wrong, Delilah. We have more allies than just my bandmates. Mary loves us, doesn't she?"
'She does, but David doesn't, and David is her soulmate.'
"How do you know that?" I demanded. I cringed at my defensiveness. Mary and I were just good friends. Nothing more. She wasn't my soulmate. Her being with someone else wasn't a betrayal. I wasn't even interested in Mary anymore, but I couldn't explain why I felt so torn up inside over her boyfriend.
'I smell fish!' Delilah licked her lips. Our conversation was long forgotten. The beauty of being a cat was that your mind couldn't linger on one thing for too long. It made me envious of Delilah at times.
Normally it was John or sometimes Brian who did the grocery shopping for us. I had really only been to the art supply store in a different plaza, so the marketplace was completely new and foreign to me. Surprisingly, the streets were pretty crowded despite the late hour. There was a lot of hustle and bustle of patrons weaving in and out of shops like mice in a maze. Only one vendor's shop people avoided like the plague and remained empty and nearly abandoned. A sign above read Randy's Fresh Fish and Produce Market, but several of the letters weren't lighting up properly. Delilah ran up to the door, placing her paws against the glass. She licked her lips again.
"Are you really sure you want to get your fish from here, darling?" I questioned, "It seems like it could use a little upkeep."
'I know good fish when I smell it.' Delilah insisted.
"Just don't blame me if you get yourself sick." I said. I scooped the cat up into my arms and placed her down into one of the baskets which I carried over to the counter.
The inside of the shop was a bit dingy and dusty. Delilah certainly wasn't getting her seafood from the Ritz, but she was delighted nonetheless. "Hello?" I called, getting no response. It was deserted like a ghost town. The door had been unlocked and the sign said open, so I assumed they were in operation. Drunk Deaky was right. I wasn't happy unless Delilah got whatever her heart desired even if that meant taking her to questionable locations for food. She was one lucky cat. I only pampered and spoiled those who I loved the most. Otherwise, I expected to be the one treated to life's luxuries.
I made my way over to the counter. The fish in the display seemed fresh and plentiful. Unfortunately, there was no caviar, but I wasn't shopping for myself. Delilah eyed the juicy tuna steaks, licking her lips excitedly.
"Hey!" A man appeared behind the counter. "How can I help you?" He was a big, buff looking man, built like a stereotypical hunter, but I didn't want to make any assumptions. A name tag read Randy which made sense considering the sign out. He frowned when he saw the cat in my basket. "Normally I would say no animals allowed because the health inspector would shut us down, but it's a bit late for that. We're closing our doors forever next week. In fact, you're the first customer I've had in days. So it'd be a crime to kick you and your cat out."
"Delilah is on her best behavior." I assured him. "Aren't you, dear?" She purred in response. 'I'll be a good girl if I get my fish.'
Randy nodded. "So what can I get for you?"
"Just one of your tuna st—"
'Seven!' Delilah interrupted. So much for being a good girl. 'I want seven tuna steaks, not just one.' The little diva mewled. 'You lost the bet and promised me a week's worth of tuna steak, remember? There's seven days of the week, so one for every day of the week. Who says cats can't do math?'
"I have no idea how I'll ever afford this, but I'd like seven of your tuna steaks." I gave into Delilah's demands.
"Okay. I should warn you. The tuna steaks are really good, but I wouldn't recommend eating them too frequently. The mercury count is pretty high." Randy informed me as he put the fish on ice.
"Oh trust me, darling, I can handle a little mercury. Besides, it's not even for me, it's for Delilah, my spoiled princess over here." She purred again when I gave her a pet.
"I'm more of a dog person myself, but I understand. Before my business took a hit and I was still able to run a butchery here in addition to the fishery and produce, I would bring home the finest and most expensive cuts for my precious bloodhound Daisy to enjoy almost every night. Daisy was such a sweetheart." He looked up, lost in thought. "Sorry. I doubt you want to hear all my rambles. You just want to get your fish and get out."
"It's no problem at all. What happened to Daisy if you don't mind me asking?" Usually bloodhounds were trained to kill and worked alongside hunters (more reason to love cats), so now I was curious how she could ever be considered a sweetheart.
"It's against the law for people to keep that breed of bloodhound solely as pets, even hunters. So when I was reported for not allowing Daisy to serve her purpose, the breeder said I either had to get a traditional hunting job, sell her to a real hunter who would use her properly, or have her put down." Randy explained. "I ended up selling her. I assume she's in the outskirts now sniffing out magical creatures in hiding, but I'm sure she misses me as much as I miss her."
"It's refreshing to meet another nontraditional hunter who actually has a sense of humanity." I blurted. I was assuming he had some humanity, but Randy didn't know that I was a muse. Would he treat me any differently if he found out the truth?
"I'm glad you feel that way. A lot of people think I shouldn't be wasting my time like this and I should use my hunting skills for what they were made for, but I don't have the heart for that. The other day I caught a mermaid in my fishing net." Randy recounted. "She was scared out of her mind because she thought I was just like every other hunter. It broke my heart. I of course let her go. I can't stomach what my buddies do to the magical creatures they find. It's one thing to hunt animals, but these are people not very different from you and me."
'I like him.' Delilah purred. 'We should invite him over for tea.'
"Why do you end up having a crush on every friendly hunter we meet?" I realized that I had just spoken back to her, and in front of a hunter no less. Yes, he was uncommonly compassionate, but I should have my guard up. Talking to cats did not make me look human. "I assume she likes you, darling, because she's purring." I quickly covered up my mistake.
"You know you don't seem like the most traditional kind of guy yourself." Randy remarked.
"What makes you say that, dear?" I asked hesitantly.
"Well for one thing you're wearing a skin tight leotard that shows off your chest hair." He chuckled.
'The chest exposure was my idea!' Delilah proudly meowed even though Randy couldn't comprehend her words.
"Well it's nice to have someone appreciate my great taste in fashion! I made matching bodysuits for my bandmates and theirs even had flashy colors to go along with their looks and personalities, and they flat out rejected them. They didn't even bother to try them on. Not even my Deaky wanted his, and the green would have brought out his eyes perfectly. Then Roger had the nerve to take his and throw it out the window like trash. No respect I tell you!" I ranted.
"You're in a band?" Randy surmised.
"Yes I am. I'm the lead singer of a rock band, and one day we'll be taking the world by storm. Queen is a name to remember, darling." I declared.
The sound of someone banging on the door got both of our attention. A man taped a sign to the window reading "Randy is a disgrace to hunters everywhere!" Then he poked his head inside, and dropped a paper bag inside of the shop and ran away.
"Oh that son of a bitch!" Randy shouted, grabbing a butcher knife, which I assumed was his special weapon. I took a cautious step backwards, but thankfully Randy wasn't brandishing his blade at me. He jumped over the counter and chased after the prankster.
I screamed when a family of rats came scampering out of the paper bag that the man had discarded in front of the door. Delilah jumped from her basket and scurried after them. As Randy was busy running after the man on the street, I had another look around the shop. On closer inspection, the products seemed top notch despite the dirt surrounding them. Perhaps repeated situations of other hunters sullying Randy's brand name and doing such horrid things as posting inflammatory signs on the window and violating the health code by dumping rats inside was what led to a downward spiral of this shop's neglect. I quickly glanced back to make sure Randy was still busy outside, and I was the only one here besides Delilah.
I took a deep breath. "AYYYY-OOH!" I belted, harnessing my magic with my voice. The light fixtures overhead flicked on making the room less dark, and the dust coating the walls and shelves disappeared. "Delilah, darling, did you chase away all the rats?"
She jumped back into the basket and nodded. 'It seems a lot cleaner now. Do you think Randy might be able to keep this place open? Because he has the best smelling fish in this entire marketplace.'
"I think it needs a few more finishing touches." I said. I hit a high note, and a fresh coat of drying paint beautiful covered the walls. Finally, with one last "Ay-Oh!", I was able to fix the sign outside so that all the letters lit up.
'Beep, beep, beep!' Shit! I forgot about the magic detector out on the street directly beneath the sign. It must have picked up on my voice's frequency. I froze in panic as I saw two armed guards walking toward the shop.
Randy casually walked back inside before the officers could arrive. He gasped when he saw what I had done to the place. "What the hell is going on?" He murmured.
"Sir." The officers entered the shop, and I knew I had to hide or something. Delilah looked up at me with wide cat eyes in the same sort of wild panic I felt deep inside. "It seems something set off the magic detectors outside your shop. Mind if we take a look around?"
Randy shook his head and rolled up his sleeve revealing his hunter mark. "I'm a hunter. I can take care of this myself. I don't need you." He held up his butcher knife. "I've got my special weapon."
"Very well. Good luck! Hope you catch the bastard." The guards surprisingly backed off and left the shop without question. I let out a sigh of relief.
Randy walked back to the counter and put his special weapon back down. "These renovations would have cost me a fortune. It almost looks as good as it did back when I first opened my doors. Before anyone figured out I was a hunter and started boycotting my business, I was the most popular shop in the marketplace. Then word got out...and it all went downhill from there. But now with these fixes, I might be able to afford to stay open a little while longer."
"Why are you looking at me, darling?" I pretended to be clueless. "I had nothing to do with this."
"Of course you didn't." Randy winked. "The fish is on the house. Be careful when you leave maybe take the back exit. Those officers seem mighty suspicious. You don't want to get yourself into any trouble."
"Thank you." I said. "We'll see how Delilah fancies these and if she approves, you have yourself one loyal customer who may be able to keep your business alive for the long term."
"Freddie!" John, seemingly more sober, ran to me and gave me a hug. "We were so worried about you!"
"Darling," I laughed, "you were the one who told me to go to the marketplace."
"Yes but I meant we go as a group, not all by yourself. What if something bad had happened?" He exclaimed.
"Now you're starting to sound like Brian. Don't you worry about me, dear. I'm fine. I can take care of myself." I told him.
"I'm just looking out for you, Freddie." Brian said. "We all are."
"I know. I'm sorry I lashed out earlier." I acknowledged. "You three watch out for me, and I appreciate that. We're a family. Now let's go home and make sure Little Dipper isn't up to anything naughty."
'I never trusted that hedgehog.' Delilah mewled.