A few minutes seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. Now, each night, Mike struggled to remember every detail, in case there were some element or some clue he could use, anything to bring Davy back.
“Look—there’s no reason to get uptight, and there’s no reason to lose our senses,” Mike said, pacing, methodical. “We just gotta remember that we’re dealing with a cool, diabolical mind.”
Only Peter seemed convinced. “Thank you!”
“I’m talking about the Devil.”
“Oh.” Peter wilted. Davy grimaced, not taking his gaze from Peter’s face.
“It’s okay guys, I have everything under control.” Micky held up a stick he’d been sharpening and gestured toward the door with it. “When he comes through the door I’m going to take this wooden stake and…” Abruptly, and with an eerie chime, the stick was replaced with a feather. Mr. Zero had appeared too, and he smiled dryly while Micky finished, giggling nervously: “…Tickle his nose.”
Davy clutched Peter’s arm more tightly, and all four boys shook in fear.
They had barely had time to process the news that Peter had unwittingly signed away his soul for the ability to play the harp before Mr. Zero showed up to claim his end of the bargain. Now he stood in their doorway in his expensive suit, all business, ready to take Peter from them forever because of a stupid mistake.
“Are you ready, Peter?” Mr. Zero asked.
“Oh no, no, he’s not ready,” Micky said quickly, beginning to babble in his nervousness. “You see, he left his suit at the cleaner’s. He’s not ready to go.”
Just stall for a minute, Mike thought with intensity, hoping Micky and Davy could read his mind. I’ve almost got it.
Micky and Davy were clutching Peter’s arms on either side, and Peter was nodding, or shuddering, it was hard to tell which.
“He’s got to write a letter to his mother, haven’t you?” Davy said.
“I’ve got a million things to do,” Peter agreed. “Couldn’t it be tomorrow?”
The three of them were a bundle of nerves, optimistic, clinging to each other. Think, Mike, think.
“Ooh, I remember reading in the paper where, due to a lack of interest, tomorrow was cancelled, so we’ll have to make it day after tomorrow,” Mike interjected, hoping he sounded confident enough to be convincing while his mind raced.
Mr. Zero shook his head without emotion. “Don’t worry, Peter, you’ll like it down there,” he said, taking Peter’s arm and leading him toward the door.
“What about the fires?” Peter asked.
“People are always talking about the fires,” Zero said irritably. “You don’t burn. All you feel… is a sense of depression.”
Zero began to open the door, but Davy ran over and pushed it shut. “Uh, wait a minute, Mr. Zero,” he said, evoking his best semblance of charm over what must have been considerable anxiety. “I’d like to make a deal with you. It doesn’t really matter who you take. Why don’t you leave Peter and take me instead?”
He sounded genuine—too genuine, Mike thought as he exchanged an uneasy look with Micky. His nerves fluttered as he watched Davy gesticulate convincingly. He could barely think over the warning bells that now rang deafeningly in his brain. Mike had a plan to save Peter, he just needed a few more seconds to work it out. It wouldn’t do any good for Davy to play knight in shining armor right now.
“My contract is with Peter,” Mr. Zero said, giving Peter’s arm a tug.
Davy snatched Peter’s other arm and he and Micky began to pull the blond away from the door. When he spoke again there was real panic in his voice. “No, no, you’re not taking him, he’s—it’s…”
Mike opened his mouth to speak, his plan finally taking firm shape in his mind, but it was already too late.
“Wait a minute,” Mr. Zero said, dropping Peter’s arm and turning back to Davy. He grasped Davy’s chin and gazed into his eyes thoughtfully. “You’d truly change places with Peter?”
Davy, no. Mike thought, and his blood ran cold in his veins.
His expression serious, Davy nodded. “Leave my friends alone, and I’ll do whatever you want.”
“How wonderful of you,” Mr. Zero smiled a sinister smile, keeping his grasp on Davy’s chin while he examined the angles of the young man’s face. Mike could see Davy trembling while Peter and Micky looked on, mute with shock. “It’s a deal, David.” He pulled Peter’s contract from his breast pocket and began to unfold it.
Before their eyes, text flourished across the bottom of the page, spelling out Davy’s full name and tracing an ominous black line for his signature.
“Davy, no,” Mike said numbly, as if coming out of a spell. “You can’t.”
“I, David Thomas Jones, as proxy for Peter Halsten Tork, hereby promise, yadda yadda yadda, all eternity, sign here, please.” Zero produced a pen and handed it to Davy.
“Davy, don’t. Please don’t,” Micky pleaded, grasping Davy tightly around both shoulders. Davy looked at Peter, who shook his head vigorously.
“I’m not letting Peter go to Hell,” Davy said, his jaw set. He quickly scrawled his name on the contract and shook Mr. Zero’s outstretched hand. The last few seconds happened so rapidly that later, in his nightmares, Mike relived them with a feeling of paralysis. Davy patted Peter on the shoulder and smiled almost convincingly. Then he spun around and hugged Micky, throwing Mike a meaningful look over the drummer’s shoulder —a look Mike would analyze to the point of agony-- before stepping backward toward the doorway and Mr. Zero.
“Let’s go, David,” Zero said winningly, and in the moment before the two men vanished in a cloud of grey smoke, Mike saw a look of pure terror wash over Davy’s face. Then he was gone.
Peter and Mike were sitting in silence at the kitchen table when Micky emerged from the upstairs bedroom, descending the spiral stairs with slower, heavier footsteps than ever before. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror by the doorway and saw his hair was flattened and greasy. Micky couldn’t remember the last time he’d bothered to shower.
“I had a plan,” Mike said for what must have been the hundredth time. “Didn’t he trust me to come up with a plan?”
Mike already knew the answer, so Micky didn’t bother with a response. Davy was a romantic, he was idealistic and impulsive, and he was loyal to a fault. He hadn’t been thinking about a plan, or Mike, or Micky. He was thinking only about saving Peter.
The harp still sat in the center of the room. A fine layer of dust had settled on it, and it was probably hideously out of tune by now. Micky glanced at it hatefully before opening the ice box, which was just as empty as it had been the day before. Force of habit, he thought.
Force of habit was why, every morning, Micky opened his eyes as the sun filtered in through his bedroom window and wondered if Davy had made coffee yet. Coffee he didn’t drink, but made for everyone else to drink. Force of habit was why every warm, sunny afternoon since Davy’s disappearance—twenty two of them, but who was counting?— Micky had the urge to barge into Davy and Peter’s room without knocking and toss Davy his surfboard. Force of habit was why Micky’s stomach flipped when he heard a bad joke and imagined the goofy face Davy would make when he told it to him later.
The fact that it had been raining for a week straight had helped Micky push a lot of painful thoughts about Davy from his mind, but not today. Today marked exactly one month since Mr. Zero had taken their friend, and it was clearly on everyone’s mind.
“It’s my fault,” Peter moaned. Micky could tell from his red rimmed eyes that he’d started crying long before Mike or Micky awoke. “Every time I see his empty bed I know he’s suffering, and it’s because of me.”
“What did Zero say about Hell?” Micky asked, trying to sound hopeful. “That it’s ‘a sense of depression?’ Maybe Davy’s immune to that. Maybe there are girls there.”
“No,” Mike said. “Something about Mr. Zero’s expression makes me think Davy’s got it tough down there. Zero wouldn’t have changed his mind about the deal if he thought he was doing us a favor.”
Micky was tempted to leave, to go back to his room and avoid Mike’s eternal pessimism, to slink away from Peter’s guilt and ignore his own emotions. But this was, frankly, more than Mike had said in weeks, and Micky felt obligated to indulge him in conversation.
“Zero took advantage of us,” Mike continued. Micky thought this was stating the obvious, but he kept silent, wanting to see where Mike was going with this line of thought. “He knew there was a flaw in that contract, and that I was trying to think of a way to use it. He knew you were going to try to take him out of the picture completely. But he knew that Davy would get there before both of us. He tricked Davy into closing the loophole himself by getting him to sign that contract without demanding ANYTHING in return.”
“What are you getting at, Mike?” Peter looked stupidly, painfully hopeful. Micky felt himself getting angry.
“I don’t see how we’ll ever get Davy back,” Mike said, and put his head in his hands.
Micky’s vision flooded, a dark red blur rising from the bottom and sides of his eyes and blotting out the kitchen scene completely. “That’s really fucking insightful, Mike,” he sputtered, spinning on his heels and exiting the beach house, but not before pushing the harp to the floor with a deafening, and definitely out-of-tune, crash.
Peter thought maybe he should follow Micky out onto the rainy beach, but Mike was the only one who could keep pace with Micky when he wanted to be alone. Instead, Peter sat on the window seat and watched grey waves roll up on the sand and wondered if he’d ever forgive himself for what happened.
Davy had actually encouraged Peter to go to the music shop that morning. Peter had complained that he was bored with their setlist and wanted to mix things up by adding a new sound to their repertoire.
“Remember where I bought those red maracas?” Davy had asked. “The store run by the Russian spies?”
“I don’t think I should go there after all the trouble that got us into,” Peter said skeptically.
“No, man, it’s under new ownership now. I was in there the other day.”
So Peter went. Peter signed a contract without reading it. Peter got himself into trouble, and his friends had to rescue him. Again. Davy had jumped into his role as white knight without thinking about the consequences. Again. And now Davy was gone, maybe forever, because of Peter’s stupid mistake.
Because Davy was a good friend, Peter thought. He wasn’t thinking about the consequences, he was thinking about saving me.
Peter couldn’t help thinking about all the times Davy had gotten him out of a tough situation, and how, now, he’d never be able to repay him. He grabbed his bass and began to play, letting the music distract him as the day wore on, the daylight fading, forgetting about Mike and Micky and even Davy as he invented complicated rhythms and exercised his fingers, losing himself in the deep throb of endless notes.
It seemed sudden, but a few hours later he found himself alone in the Pad with sore fingers and a pounding headache. It was raining harder, and it was getting dark-- the breaking waves were barely visible on the shore.
He squinted, hoping that Micky might appear on the veranda so he could talk to him about Davy. But wherever Micky found solace, it wasn’t in this house. Peter sighed. He thought he must miss Davy more than anyone—their shared bedroom was a mausoleum, a shrine to the all things Davy left behind, and Peter could barely sleep there without excruciating memories intruding on his thoughts.
These were the memories: Davy telling jokes until sunrise when Peter had insomnia after that terrifying night in the haunted mansion. Davy bringing him blankets, aspirin, and water when he was sick with the flu. Davy mumbling a stream of women’s names in his sleep. Davy pretending to neck with Peter’s teddy bear after April Conquest dumped all of them for that musician. Davy tiptoeing into their bedroom late, after dates, as Peter squinted through the darkness to try and glimpse stars sparkling in his eyes.
The rain had fallen steadily all day, but suddenly it increased in speed, pounding on the ground with almost deafening force. Lightning cracked. Micky ran in little bursts between the awnings of apartment buildings, already soaked through but unwilling to tolerate the sheets of water beating on his back for the entire half mile home.
A block from the Pad, he paused on Niles’s porch, listening to the jaunty, irregular rhythm the rain tapped on the tin mailbox. Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat. Rat-tat-tat. Tat-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta.
He didn’t want to go home, but he knew Peter must be there alone. He’d left angry that morning, and for all Peter knew, he’d been wandering in the rain all day, not holed up in a record shop. Mike may have lost focus on the group’s well-being since Davy had disappeared, but Peter was still trying to keep things together-- if not for Micky and Mike, then for himself. Micky tried to remember to appreciate the effort, but today appreciation had been difficult.
He was starting to contemplate the beeline he would take as he ran down the block when he noticed a blurry figure walking slowly in the direction of the Pad on the opposite side of the street. He rubbed water out of his eyes. Nobody was on the streets in this unusual weather, and this person, whoever he was, walked at a bizarrely steady, calm pace.
Micky watched the figure walk for a few moments until it stopped on the sidewalk in front of the Pad. Something about the way the person was standing made his breath catch in his throat. He couldn’t help but hope. He broke into a run, his soaked shoes squelching with every step.
As he crossed the street, he saw the person’s dark hair, shoulder length and matted from the rain.
Two houses away, he could see the dark blue of the person’s wet shirt, plastered to his body.
One house away, he stopped short, his heart pounding wildly in disbelief.
“Davy?” Micky called.
The figure turned his head. Water ran down his face, streaming down the tip of his nose and chin, illuminating his features in the glow of the street lamp. It was Davy.
When the door swung open so hard it slammed against the wall, Peter expected Mike to stumble in drunk, or Micky to storm in angry. But when Micky entered, he was soaking wet and grinning from ear to ear, and his arm was around another dripping figure.
“Pete,” Micky said, his voice pitched high with excitement.
Peter took a step forward, his eyes locked on Davy’s face, as if it would disappear if he lost track of it. Davy was paler than Peter had ever seen him, and the paleness accentuated the density of his eyelashes and eyebrows, giving his face a dramatic expression. As Peter stared, Davy began to shiver.
“Let me get a blanket,” Peter said, tearing his eyes away to run into the bedroom. When he came out, Micky had his arms wrapped around Davy, who stood in an expanding puddle of rainwater, shaking uncontrollably.
Peter pressed his palm to Davy’s cheek. “Your lips are blue. You’re freezing… How did you get here? How long have you been outside?”
Davy took the blanket and shrugged. He held the blanket in his hands for a few moments, his gaze shifting between Peter and Micky, his expression blank.
“We’ve got to get you out of your wet clothes,” Peter said. Davy nodded, but his hands were too unsteady to unbutton his shirt. Peter and Micky helped him undress to his boxers, and Peter hesitated for a moment, noticing how thin Davy had become, before wrapping him with the blanket and leading him to the couch. Peter and Micky sat on either side of Davy, the silence bursting with unasked questions as they watched the color return to his face.
“Are you okay?” Micky asked, finally. “What did Zero do to you? Are you hurt? What was Hell like?”
Davy ran his tongue along his bottom lip hesitantly. “I’m fine,” he answered simply, his voice hoarse. “Actually, I’m great.” He smiled for the first time, wiping away a stream of water that had begun to run from his hairline into his eyes. Suddenly, he glanced at the front door, which they’d left wide open in the confusion of his arrival, and as if on cue, Mike appeared a few seconds later.
“What the--” Mike said, stopping in his tracks as he saw the pool of water on the floor. He, too, was soaked through, and now he took off his hat, wringing it in his hands and dripping more water as he walked slowly toward his friends, his mouth open in disbelief. “Is that really you?”
Davy nodded, the smile growing into a grin.
Davy just smiled.
Mike had spent hours thinking about how Mr. Zero had looked at Davy before taking him away. Zero had grabbed Davy’s face and stared deeply into his eyes and seen something there that he liked enough to trade for Peter. Mike couldn’t believe that Mr. Zero would send Davy back to them in any state without expecting something in return. Micky maybe—Micky could be a pain in the ass, when he wanted to be. Peter, too—he asked too many dumb questions, he made messes. But Mr. Zero wanted Davy, it had been obvious by the way his eyes twinkled as the contract between them materialized. Mr. Zero had an angle on Davy, and he wasn’t going to return him to the Monkees for no reason.
Yet here Davy was, been to Hell and back, looking almost exactly like his normal self again.
Almost exactly, but in some ways he actually looked better, which only increased Mike’s skepticism. Now Davy was sitting in the kitchen, freshly showered, his hair falling to his shoulders, somehow looking even cuter than usual and not volunteering any new information about his time in Hell. As Mike watched Micky and Peter fuss over Davy, who was batting impossibly dense eyelashes, he felt his patience wane.
“Are you wearing eyeliner or something?” Mike blurted in spite of his better judgement.
“No, why?” Bat bat bat.
Were his cheekbones higher? His lips fuller? Mike couldn’t put his finger on it, but when Davy looked right at him he felt his heart flutter strangely in spite of his growing doubts. “What exactly happened to you in Hell, Davy?”
Davy remained confidently silent until an obstinate knock on the door made everyone jump. “Boys? It’s your landlord, open up.”
Everyone rose to their feet, but Davy gestured for them to sit down and walked to the door. He was still wearing the oversized polka dot pajamas that made him resemble a little boy.
Except he doesn’t, Mike thought. There was a new quality to Davy that made him almost mesmerizing to look at. It was eerie and intense.
“Hi, Mr. Babbitt,” Davy said, opening the door wide. “What can we do for you?”
“You boys are a month late on the rent,” Babbitt said, marching in without looking at Davy. “If you can’t give me the rent right now—you’re out!”
Davy sidled up next to Babbitt. “Oh, Mr. Babbitt,” he said, his eyes twinkling a little. “We don’t have the money this month, but I know we’ll have it next month. Do you think you could forget about it, just this once?”
Peter and Micky looked at each other with twin expressions of horror. At this rate, they actually were going to get evicted.
But Babbitt seemed taken aback as well, and he blinked several times before responding. He seemed unable, or unwilling, to break eye contact with Davy. Several long moments passed before he finally said, “Oh, well, I guess missing a month’s rent won’t hurt me. You can consider this your first warning for next month.”
Micky gasped audibly.
“We really appreciate it, Mr. Babbitt,” Davy said. He tilted his head slightly. His gaze was unwavering, unpetulant, unapologetic. “We were also thinking about having a party tonight. Do you think you could bring over some pretzels for our guests? We’re a little short on cash right now, you see.”
“Sure, sure, I know how you young people love parties,” Babbitt said enthusiastically, seemingly unaware that everyone but Davy was staring at him in shock. “I’ll be over around 8pm.”
“See you then,” Davy said sedately, and shut the door in his face softly. He turned around to face the three of them, stifling a proud smile. “Did you see what I did there?”
“You just convinced Babbitt to forget about this month’s rent,” Peter said slowly.
“And let us have a party,” Micky said, frowning.
“And provide snacks,” Mike added, narrowing his eyes. He fought to keep his doubts clear in his mind as Davy turned to him, gazing with such intensity that Mike’s mind seem to swim. “What exactly happened to you in Hell, Davy?” The words seemed to float out of his mouth.
Davy laughed half-heartedly, pushing his hair out of his eyes and averting his eyes from Mike. “I don’t think we have time to talk about all that right now. We have a party to prepare for.”
As he walked out to the veranda, all three boys’ gazes followed him involuntarily until he was out of sight.
Bullshit, Mike thought again, and he felt goosebumps rise on his arms in spite of the heat.
Micky sat on the end of Davy’s bed, watching the smaller man’s reflection as he examined himself in the mirror. He had seen Davy get ready for dates many times. He could remember in great detail the way Davy smoothed his hair and made silly faces at himself to calm his nerves before a date with some new girl. Now, though, Davy stood in front of the mirror and regarded himself seriously, without any nervous tics. He was humming ‘Cuddly Toy’ softly, and Micky tried to quell his goosebumps by reminding himself that they had rehearsed it earlier that day, for the party.
He couldn’t help remembering Mike’s words of warning from that morning: “Mick, he just charmed Babbitt out of rent money. You know as well as I do that even Davy can’t do that. There’s something strange about this whole thing.”
Micky had to agree that there was something eerily… charismatic… about Davy now, but he couldn’t quite pin it down. Davy had always been nauseatingly cute, but there was a darker quality to his looks now that tipped the scales, making it difficult not to stare.
Davy’s eyes flicked upward in the mirror and met Micky’s for a long moment. Micky experienced a swooping sensation in his head that reminded him of the sound an owl made when it was descending, somewhere off in the invisible dark. It was not the first time he’d felt this way.
Six months ago he’d been watching the midnight sci-fi flick on television when Davy waltzed in from a date, still jittery with nervous energy. He had sat next to Micky on the couch in silence for a while, eventually giving up on trying to make sense of the movie.
“It’s about two FBI agents who keep finding clues about the existence of alien life, but the government keeps thwarting them,” Micky had explained.
“Sounds dumb,” Davy had said with a broad grin, clearly trying to wind him up.
“The subplot is that the two agents are attracted to each other, but they have to work together so it’s hard for them to talk about it,” Micky added, feeling gratified when this had seemed to pique Davy’s interest, making him to turn his head away from the television to look at Micky thoughtfully. The right side of his face was illuminated by a dynamic play of television glow, the left barely visible in the darkness, but there had been just enough light to see the Davy’s playful expression as he looked at Micky, his gaze lingering much longer than usual.
“Oh,” Davy had said after an extensive pause, his voice becoming so soft Micky had to lean in a little closer. In Micky’s memory, the single syllable stretched on for minutes, enough time for a hundred different scenarios to play out. He remembered thinking that Davy was usually more eloquent. He remembered catching himself examining Davy’s lips, then the arc of his nose, then his dense eyelashes. He remembered that when he realized he and Davy were kissing, he had pulled back in shock.
“Um,” Micky murmured before Davy’s lips found his again, pressing harder this time as the smaller man pushed him into the arm of the couch. Micky gave in.
He’d given in again more times since that night, always in some secretive, random late-night scenario. He’d begun to expect it with some degree of regularity—every week or so, the two of them alone, Davy skittish with post-date nerves, never discussing anything, just kissing. Now, looking at Davy in the mirror, he remembered each occasion as an indistinguishable rush of confusing emotions that mingled ambiguously with other memories—Davy doubled over giggling at one of Micky’s stupid jokes. Micky carrying Davy out of some haunted house or another. Both of them rolling their eyes at one of Peter’s dumb ideas.
It wasn’t as if Davy’s dates were going poorly—half of the time, he returned home disheveled and with lipstick on his face and neck. Maybe the two of them were burning off late-night energy. Maybe they were both just bored. It was unclear. Micky didn’t know what else to do but keep his mouth shut and not think about it too deeply.
But now, Micky wondered what it meant that Davy was back. Hell seemed to have extinguished his nervous energy, so maybe the window for future close encounters had closed. Micky was surprised by how miserable the idea made him feel.
“Don’t worry, Mick, the party is going to be great,” Davy said into the mirror with a relaxed smile.
This was one time that Micky didn’t feel up to a party, but he had to play his part. After all, it was Davy’s welcome back party, and he was happy to have Davy back, even if it was this strangely magnetic version of Davy that seemed to attract everyone in the room from all directions at once.
After their short set—in which Micky hoped he had managed to harmonize on ‘Cuddly Toy’ without revealing how intensely creeped out he was by Davy’s impassive performance—Davy stood at the foot of the banister, surrounded by a crowd of guests who seemed to all be babbling incoherently to get his attention. Micky was watching Davy laugh politely at Niles’s impression of Nancy Reagan when he felt a hand touch his shoulder. He spun around to face Mike.
“Strange, isn’t it?” Mike said, tilting his head toward Davy. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a crowd of girls, but everyone at this party seems to be stuck on Davy like gum on my shoe.” As if to prove the point, Mike lifted a leg to check the bottom of his boot before walking off in search of a girl who wasn’t preoccupied with Davy.
Micky wandered around the Pad for a few minutes, trying to drum up some enthusiasm for the party. Finally, he put Help! on the stereo and decided to retreat to his room to get his head back on straight. He burrowed slowly through the crowd of Davy’s admirers on the stairs and finally closed the door on the party, leaning gently against the door in relief.
The door handled jiggled a few minutes later. Micky opened it—thinking it might be Mike and the one girl who was immune to Davy’s charms—and found himself looking straight into Davy’s gently smiling face. His expression had lost some of its flatness and seemed warmer now.
“Can I come in?” Davy asked. Micky opened the door wider. Davy entered, then gently shut the door behind him. He studied Micky for a minute. “Is everything OK?”
“Sure,” Micky lied. “I think I ate too many of those fancy canapé things Babbitt brought over. Shouldn’t you be out there, enjoying all the attention?”
Davy tilted his head, his expression softening even more. “I wanted to pay attention to you.”
There it was again, that swooping sensation. The confusion was becoming overwhelming. Micky leaned back against the door again and slid down until he was sitting on the ground.
“You know what I was thinking about today?” Davy asked, also sliding down the door until he was sitting next to Micky. “That movie about the FBI agents and the aliens.”
Micky blinked, startled. “…What?”
“Yeah, how did that one end?” Davy’s serious expression was betrayed by a little bit of dancing around the corners of his eyes. They could hear the opening chords of Tell Me What You See playing in the party below them, but Micky’s awareness of everything outside the bedroom was fading.
“We didn’t see the end,” Micky whispered, feeling the swoop again, closer this time. His left arm seemed to burn where it pressed against Davy’s right arm.
“Oh yeah,” Davy said, calmly reaching with his left hand toward Micky’s face and pulling him closer, in achingly slow motion, until they were kissing softly, slowly, gradually gathering speed and intensity, like a ball rolling down a hill, or a predator in flight making its descent. Swoop.
Micky couldn’t help wondering why Davy was here—in his room, kissing him like this, when he could have any girl at the party that was still going on downstairs. Maybe even two at once.
“Because I missed you,” Davy answered, his lips still brushing Micky’s, and Micky was barely aware that he hadn’t asked the question out loud.
Peter knew he wasn’t the smartest guy in the world, but he knew he wasn’t dumb either. That was mostly just an act—it gave him more time to think. Mike liked to come to conclusions fast--- that helped everyone out a lot, Peter thought, but it didn’t always lead to the right answer. Peter was patient. He asked questions that no one else wanted to ask. He let people explain things to him, and it helped him see deeper into the situation.
Halfway through the party, Peter extricated himself from a formidable debate about the basis of social privilege to look for his bandmates. Mike was on the veranda kissing a curvaceous blonde-- and being a little too handsy, in Peter’s opinion. Micky and Davy were nowhere to be seen. The album Micky had put on earlier—Help! —was about to end, and Peter walked to the record player to ponder what album to play next.
Niles swaggered in from the verandah to ask where Davy had gone. He didn’t look any different than usual—high off his mind, of course, but not unusually so—and Peter tried to remember the last time Niles had even interacted directly with Davy. Peter knew that this kind of thing was why Mike was so suspicious of Davy right now. But was it really Davy’s fault if he was attracting people the way roadkill attracts maggots?
Mike also thought that the morning’s incident with Mr. Babbitt proved that there was something phony about Davy, but Peter knew better. Davy had been talking about charming Mr. Babbitt out of rent ever since Micky’s crossdressing act had enchanted the landlord. He was competitive, and he couldn’t let it stand that Micky was the only one able to work that particular magic on the crusty old man. The look on Davy’s face after he closed the door on Babbitt was pure gratification, an expression of satisfaction over a victory only Davy would care about.
Maybe Mike was right about Davy having improved ability to charm now, with his unbelievably dark lashes and deep brown eyes, but the foundation was the same. Davy loved to perform—he was just embracing whatever creepy magnetic powers he’d been returned from Hell with. How could you blame him?
“I’m not sure where Davy went, Niles,” Peter said. “Should we play the Beach Boys?”
“Whatever, man,” Niles said, wandering away.
Peter suddenly spotted Micky and Davy making their way down the staircase, slowly, because a zombie-like crowd of people were moving in the opposite direction towards Davy. Both of his bandmates seemed oblivious to the chaos. Peter waved, but they weren’t looking at him or anyone else. They were looking at each other.
That night, when the guests had gone home and Davy and Peter were settling into their beds, Peter still found himself puzzling over what he’d seen. He wasn’t sure what it meant, so he decided to keep the observation to himself until he had more answers.
“Hey Davy… I just wanted to say thank you, you know, for everything you did for me.”
Davy smiled affectionately, rolling on one side to face Peter and folding one arm under his head. “No problem, Peter. I’d do it again if I had to.”
“Was it terrible in Hell?”
Davy paused for a few seconds too long, and it made Peter’s heart pound, but he never broke eye contact.
“I’ll tell you a secret, but you have to keep it between us for now,” Davy said, his expression suddenly very serious. “My contract with Zero wasn’t the same as yours. I didn’t know about that until later. I never went to Hell.”
“Then… where were you?”
Davy frowned, his gaze unfocusing a little as he thought. “It’s hard to explain.”
Peter could tell Davy was ready to change the subject, so he took another tack. “I thought for sure you’d be going home with one of those girls from the party tonight.”
Davy laughed, reached across the nightstand, and turned off the lamp. “I guess none of them were really my type,” he said. “I didn’t really hit it off with any of them.”
It took Peter’s eyes a few minutes to adjust to the sudden darkness, but it was a full moon, and soon he could make out Davy’s silhouette, then his facial features where the moonlight hit them. Peter thought about the last thing Davy said, and he was confused, because if he squinted he could almost swear he saw stars sparkling in Davy’s eyes.
When Davy woke, only the faintest glow of sunlight told him that it was nearly morning. He kept still, hoping that sleep might find him again, but after a few minutes he knew he was irreversibly awake. Quietly, he changed into his swim trunks and a light jacket and slipped out of the bedroom, out of the Pad, and down to the beach.
He wasn’t surprised—just disappointed—to find Mr. Zero waiting for him there in his typical formal attire. He had either just arrived, or a heavy fog was rolling in from the water.
“You’re a little overdressed for the beach,” Davy smirked.
“You’re a little underdressed for a meeting with the Devil,” Zero countered.
“Don’t exaggerate, I know what you really are,” Davy said. “What do you want now?”
“There are a few matters that need attending to. The Governor, for instance, requires some persuasion.” Zero fixed him with a pointed look. “Or are you only doing parlor tricks now?”
The comment made Davy’s stomach lurch, but he tried to remain calm. We had a deal, he reminded himself. Zero couldn’t break that deal without legitimate motives.
“What exactly does the Governor need?” Davy said finally, narrowing his eyes.
“He needs to build an expensive bridge, which will require additional funds from an anonymous donor,” Zero said, drawing out the word anonymous. “He’s currently considering a more affordable plan.”
“And how do I come in?”
“You’re an idealistic young man who believes the affordable plan will threaten the nesting site of some endangered waterfowl.”
Davy felt his stomach sink in resignation. He was about to pay for the way he’d used his charisma yesterday. Sure, he hadn’t asked for the gift of charm, but now that he had it, using it was a hard habit to break. Especially because—he had to admit—he loved the extra attention it earned him.
Zero was the arbitrator for how Davy used his gift, the sole reporter to the real Satan—Zero’s boss-- and Davy had no choice but to stay in his good graces if he hoped to keep the deal he’d made.
“This afternoon. It won’t take long. You’ll be back with your darling friends before you know it.”
In a puff of smoke, Zero was gone. Davy stared past where he had been standing moments earlier, out into the ocean. The morning was chilly, but he wasn’t shivering from the cold.
Micky headed straight down to the beach before breakfast, hoping to catch a few solitary moments to get his thoughts together. He was surprised to find Davy already there, lying in the sun—probably trying to regain his tan, Micky thought, since he’d gotten so pale in the month he’d been in Hell.
As Micky walked closer, he realized that Davy was asleep. Micky stared at him for what felt like a long time. He still felt a wave of relief every time he saw Davy—he didn’t take for granted that just a few days ago they had all believed he was gone forever—but now the relief was mixed up with anxiety about who Davy was now, and what it meant. Last night Davy had an unfamiliar, mesmerizing quality that scared Micky a little, but sleeping here in the sand, he was unintimidating. He was just Davy.
Micky threw himself on the ground with a loud thud.
“Davy-baby, wake up, you’ll get a sunburn.”
Davy’s eyes blinked open and he grinned back at Micky sleepily. It was the same lopsided, goofy grin he gave after one of Micky’s terrible jokes. Micky felt his stomach flip a little and tried to ignore it.
“I was trying to see the whales,” Davy explained. “Did you know there are whales here this time of year?”
“Yes, did you know you have sand all over your face?”
Davy blushed. He was still blinking sleepily, not yet alert enough to come back with a snappy line. Micky felt the swoop again, more intensely than before. There was a roaring in his ears.
“Don’t worry,” Micky continued, by way of apology for embarrassing his friend. “It’s a good look on you.”
Davy smiled hesitantly. “Hey, so, last night….”
Micky remembered Davy’s whispered, “Because I missed you,” a clairvoyant line that simultaneously drove chills down his spine and delighted him. He remembered the way he’d bit Davy’s lower lip, then how Davy’s eyelashes felt brushing his neck while Davy kissed his collarbone. He remembered how Davy fumbled with his belt with a frustration that spoke volumes about his comparative dexterity with a bra clasp. He could still feel Davy’s fingers tangled in his hair, running down his stomach, pushing his fingers into the waistband of his pants….
Micky blinked a few times. “It’s no big deal. Don’t worry about it. That’s our secret, right?”
Davy’s face was unreadable. “Okay…” he said, sitting up. “Did you—uh…” He fumbled for words in a way that was so uncharacteristically awkward that it jarred Micky. “I guess I’d better go inside. Don't want to get burned,” he said abruptly, and headed back for the house, leaving Micky alone on the beach.
That afternoon, Davy met Mr. Zero on the beach a few hundred meters from the Pad, and Zero transported the two of them to Sacramento in a puff of smoke. Davy coughed as the smoke cleared. A composed troupe of protesters stood in a cluster outside the gates to a mansion.
“This is the Governor’s mansion. Every day around this time he comes outside to ask the protesters to be peaceful, because his wife is resting. He might be willing to consider a private meeting with one of the protestors today, though.”
Davy had enough experience working with Mr. Zero to not ask any more questions. They were a waste of time. Zero had never sent him on a mission he couldn’t complete, nevermind whether he hated himself for completing it.
“I’ll leave you to it, then,” Zero said, and he was gone.
Davy had realized very rapidly after disappearing with Mr. Zero that the whole deal with Peter had been a trap from the beginning. Davy had met Zero first, in the music shop. Zero hadn’t been able to interest him in any expensive instruments – Davy had already learned his lesson after buying those discounted maracas with the microfilm—but he had recommended the shop to Peter. When Zero realized how Davy had inadvertently helped him make a deal, he came up with a plan to con Davy into helping him, again and again.
That’s the beauty of our deal, David. Some people want fame, money, power, the works…but some people can be persuaded to do the wrong thing just for a pretty face, Zero told him.
And I’m the pretty face, Davy thought grimly. In a month, Davy’s face and new persuasive powers had doubled the number of souls Mr. Zero delivered to Satan. He’d met with as many men as women, all of them powerful, all of them corruptible. He wasn’t proud of it, of course… but Davy had always had to perform to survive. The only difference now was that the stakes were higher. Thirty days with a perfect record, and Zero had agreed to send him back to his friends. Davy had done it—every excruciating mission, a success—but Zero still had him on the hook if he used the powerful charisma he’d been given for his own benefit.
Davy squeezed into the group of protestors. None of them seemed to notice an unfamiliar face in their crowd, nor did they mind when he pressed his way to the gate. He suspected that Zero had conjured up the lot of them. He wasn’t even sure if the bird the environmentalists were protesting over was real.
Maybe it’s good that I’m doing this today, to get this power out of my system, Davy thought as he waited for the Governor. He no longer wanted the powers Zero had gifted him-- the easy charm that now came as naturally as breathing, and the vague ability to sense others' thoughts. He’d asked to be rid of them, but Zero claimed he didn’t know how to remove powers of that kind. Davy knew he needed to tone down his gift around Mike, who was becoming intensely paranoid. He needed to avoid using it with Peter, who was already overly impressionable. And as for Micky… Davy knew he’d already inadvertently crossed the line, and it had only made things more confusing.
Davy’s attention snapped back into focus as he saw the Governor walking across the lawn.
“Excuse me, sir, I was wondering if I could have a moment to discuss Carmel River’s waterfowl estuary with you. Privately.”
An hour later, Davy spun slowly around in the Governor’s oversized leather office chair. He was naked. The Governor was in his briefs, leaning on his desk with one arm, openly captivated. Davy left the chair and stood as close to the Governor as possible, their faces only inches apart.
“You see how strongly I feel about the safety of the waterfowl breeding area, then?” Davy whispered.
“I do,” the Governor said. “But the funding just isn’t there.”
“Someone as important as you must have so many options to choose from.” Davy reached behind the man and ran his hand slowly down his back. He could feel goosebumps prickle on the man’s skin, and he sensed the plan forming in the man’s mind.
“Yes…” The Governor said slowly. “I did discuss the matter with a private donor the other day.”
The donor was Mr. Zero, Davy knew. The terms of the donation would be written in fine print, but the Governor would find out about them soon enough. This deal wasn’t for his soul—not yet—instead, it was an arrangement that would give Zero control over the man for years to come.
When Davy’s work was done, he shrugged his shirt back on, taking care with each button. He smoothed his hair, knowing without looking in a mirror that it fell neatly back into place. He left the Governor’s mansion and found Mr. Zero waiting around the corner.
“It’s done,” Davy confirmed, his mouth set in a hard line. “Can I go home now?”
“Just a minute, David,” Mr. Zero said slyly. “I thought it might be prudent to remind you about the terms of our deal. If you want to use those little gifts to con a conman out of rent money, that’s--”
“I’ve fulfilled our deal, Zero, and I think what I just did makes up for yesterday’s trick with Babbitt,” Davy interrupted, feeling his face grow hot.
“The landlord is one thing. Your romantic life is another. You can’t cheat your way to love. The second you use those gifts to fulfill your own happiness, the whole deal is off. You’re mine forever.”
Davy stared at him, agonizing over the details of last night’s interactions with Micky. How much of what happened was actually because of Zero’s gifts? He was so used to charming strangers now that the line between his own charisma and the supernatural one was becoming blurry. Then he remembered Micky’s casual dismissal on the beach that morning-- Don’t worry about it -- and grimaced.
“Don’t worry. Nobody’s falling in love with me,” Davy said as Zero began to transport them back to the Pad. For a moment, he thought he could Mr. Zero’s grin looming ominously through the smoke like the Cheshire cat’s.
“This isn’t a good idea, Michael,” Peter said. “You know how Davy hates it when we smother him.”
Mike sighed. “We’re not going to smother him, Pete, we’re going to sit him down and make him answer a few simple questions.”
Mike’s plan—his best one so far, though he knew it was far from perfect—was to quiz Davy until the truth came out. He had asked Micky and Peter to come up with questions only Davy would know the answer to, and he was sitting at the kitchen table brainstorming a few key interrogative points about Davy’s time in Hell.
“Where is he now, anyway?” Mike asked.
Micky shrugged. Peter pursed his lips.
“Do you know something I don’t, Peter?”
Peter considered the question very seriously. “How much have you read about the Indian independence movement?” he asked.
Peter nodded vigorously. “Isn’t that why you asked Micky and me to come up with questions that probe into the intimate personal details he’s shared with us in confidence?”
Mike rolled his eyes in exasperation and looked at Micky for backup, but Micky only looked uncomfortable. “Look, guys, I’m trying to protect us. What if this some kind of trap to get us all to sign our souls away?”
Peter looked at Micky, then back to Mike. “Micky and I don’t need more proof that it’s Davy. He might be a little strange right now, but he’s still our friend.”
“What if our friend Davy is acting under some sort of threat?” Mike countered, unleashing his last convincing argument. “What if he’s acting strange on purpose to show us that we need to figure out a way to stop him?”
They finally agreed on a compromise—each of them would ask Davy one question, and afterward, if they didn’t learn anything new, Mike agreed to stop cross-examining Davy and give him more time to adjust. The obvious problem with the plan was that they couldn’t actually force Davy to answer the questions. That was why it was so important to ask the right ones, so that even his silence would give Mike information.
Finally, Davy walked in from the beach. He was wearing a very well-tailored black button-down shirt that accentuated the attractive darkness of his eyes. He smiled at them winningly.
“Hey! Did I miss rehearsal or something?”
“Sit down for a minute,” Mike gestured to the table. Stunned, Davy joined them. He looked from Mike to Peter, avoiding Micky’s eyes so obviously that Mike’s focus faltered for a moment in confusion.
Peter started the questioning reluctantly, looking down at his hands. “I wanted to ask you what your deal was with Mr. Zero, if it wasn’t that you took my place in Hell.”
Davy looked betrayed, and he paused for a long time before he answered, “I was helping him trick people into contracts. I know that sounds terrible, but I did everything he asked so I could come back to you guys. And it’s over now, I’m not helping him anymore.”
Peter’s eyes flicked upward and met Davy’s. He looked angry, and Mike was taken aback. Peter did know something Mike didn’t know, and it wasn’t like him to lie about it. Or lie about it so well, Mike thought with some irritation.
The long silence that followed was awkward. Finally, Micky cleared his throat. “Okay… I wanted to ask, uh, whether you have any sort of, uh, special abilities that you’ve been using on Babbitt, and, um, maybe other people.”
The blood drained from Davy’s face. “What is this?” he demanded. His voice rose in pitch. “Did you all get together and decide to give me the third degree?”
Mike put a hand on Davy’s shoulder to calm him. Seeing Davy start to lose his temper was pretty convincing proof that he was the ‘real’ Davy—and Mike was starting to realize why Peter thought this confrontation was such a bad idea in the first place. “We just wanted to clear the air a little.”
“Okay,” Davy said. His explanation was punctuated with frustrated pauses. “Yeah, Mr. Zero gave me some… tips. On how to be more persuasive. So I could help him. I used them on Babbitt to help with the rent.”
“And that’s all,” Mike said slowly. “You didn’t use them at the party last night?” He pictured the crowd of people fawning over Davy’s every word.
“Sometimes I forget that I’m doing subtle things. It’s not malicious.” Davy glanced at Micky several times as he continued. “If I used the gifts—I mean, tips—it was an accident. Honestly.”
He sounds totally sincere, Mike thought. And hurt. He began to regret convincing Peter and Micky to violate Davy’s trust.
“Can you read minds?” Micky asked abruptly. To Mike, the question seemed to come out of the blue, but Davy looked like he’d been slapped in the face. He nodded, his head moving almost imperceptibly as he lowered his eyes. Micky’s chair made a loud noise as it scraped across the floor. He waved a hand dismissively as he headed down to the beach. Peter calmly left the table, too, following Micky.
Davy continued to stare at the table miserably, and the silence wore on and on. Guilt pounded in Mike’s veins. He felt as though he needed to say something to comfort Davy, but he was drawing a blank.
“Go ahead, ask your last question,” Davy said in strained voice. Goosebumps pricked Mike’s arms. Can he really read my mind? Davy raised his head again to look at Mike, and Mike was gutted to see how close he was to tears.
If Davy could really read his mind, he already knew what question Mike was burning to ask. There wasn’t really any point in pretending. Mike put his hand on Davy’s shoulder again to try and convey his remorse.
“How were you persuading people to sign their souls over to Mr. Zero?” Mike said, his voice almost a whisper.
Davy’s eyes seemed to go out of focus for a second. He blinked, and two huge tears rolled down his cheeks. He quickly wiped them away with his sleeve. He shook his head, refusing to answer, which told Mike everything he needed to know.
“Stop following me, Peter,” Micky said, picking up his pace. “I don’t want to talk.”
Peter broke into a jog to try and narrow the gap between himself and Micky. “But Micky.” Micky didn’t turn around, he just charged forward, scowling. “Mick—you don’t have to talk to me. But I need to talk to you.”
Micky stopped and turned around to face Peter. “Okay. What.”
It wasn’t easy talking to Micky when he was this angry. He could be stubborn. Sometimes he said things that stung for days, long after an apology.
“Okay, it’s just that I’ve noticed some weird things about Davy,” Peter rambled, trying to get the words out as fast as he could. Micky rolled his eyes. “No, of course, I mean, I noticed the same things you’ve noticed, but I noticed other things, too.”
“This morning he left our room at daybreak. I woke up when he was changing his clothes, and I followed him out here. He met Mr. Zero on the beach,” Peter explained. Micky gaped at him incredulously. “I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I know he was lying just now when he said he wasn’t working with Zero anymore.”
“He lied to me, too,” Micky said quietly, narrowing his eyes. “He told me he came out here to watch whales.”
And people think I’m the dummy, Peter thought. Honestly, Micky. When was the last time Davy expressed an interest in cephalopod behavior?
“But why did you even follow him out here?” Micky asked.
Peter paused to think. “Something strange happened at the party last night. All of those girls were falling all over Davy—no, I know, that’s not the strange part—and he spent most of the party hanging out with you.”
The sun was setting, and the reddish light it cast on Micky’s face almost made it look like the drummer was blushing.
“When we went to sleep, I asked him about it. He said none of those girls were his type… but… he had those stars in his eyes.”
Micky blinked incredulously. Peter continued.
“Do you know what I mean? After he falls in love with a girl, he gets these little stars. I don’t know how it works, but I always know when he’s been on a good date because he comes home really late and his eyes are sparkling. What do you think, Micky? He’s definitely not being honest about something, right?”
Micky ran a hand through his hair, turning to look back at the Pad. “After all his dates?” Micky asked. He seemed to be distracted from the issue at hand.
Peter frowned. “More of them recently, I guess, but that’s not the point. Do you think he was lying about—“
Peter stopped midsentence. Micky had taken off running in the direction of the Pad.
Because. I. Missed. You. Because. I. Missed. You. Because. I. Missed. You. BecauseImissedyoubecauseImissedyoubecauseImissedyou.
The words pounded in his mind with each step as Micky ran down the beach, then rapidly up the stairs through the back door of the Pad. Mike and Davy were still sitting at the kitchen table. Mike had taken off his hat and was regarding Davy with a somber look on his face.
With a flash, Micky remembered how angry he had been when he’d stormed out minutes earlier. That anger seemed to have left him a long time ago, but he could tell from the guarded expressions on Mike and Davy’s faces that they were expecting him to rage.
He licked his lips. “Could I talk to you alone for a minute, Davy?” Micky said. His head swam with all of the information he’d learned that evening, but in that moment only a few details were important.
Mike raised a hand in a protective gesture, but Davy stood up, nodding. Micky followed him into the downstairs bedroom, closing the door softly behind them.
Davy sat down heavily on his own bed. He looked like he’d been crying.
“I’m sorry,” Davy said, and the words hung in the air between them.
It seemed strange, but Micky felt like he was seeing Davy for the first time—stripped down to this one emotion, and not trying to make a performance of it. There was no cockiness, no charm, just Davy’s eyes rimmed with red and lines of unhappiness etched down his face.
“It’s okay,” Micky replied, and as he said it, it was hard to even remember what Davy was apologizing for. Reading his mind? The anger he had felt seemed absurd now. That swooping sensation was starting to engulf him again, but this time it didn’t remind him of a predator going after prey. He felt like he was falling.
Micky’s head was spinning, so he sat down on the bed next to Davy. Davy turned toward him, burying his face in Micky’s shoulder. Micky ran his fingers through Davy’s hair.
“I missed you, too,” he whispered.
Mike stood on the verandah and watched Peter walk back up the high sandy hill from the beach. He still hadn’t been able to guess what had made Peter or Micky so angry with Davy during their interrogation, but the whole situation had gone so badly that Mike was reluctant to bring it up again. At any rate, Peter didn’t look angry now. He looked a little bewildered.
“Hey,” Peter said as he climbed the stairs. “Did Micky come in here?”
“He’s acting funny.”
“We’re all acting funny,” Mike said. He remembered the way Davy went pale when he realized they had all conspired to interrogate him, and his chest ached.
Peter didn’t object to the observation, but he still stared into the Pad with interest. “I’m really worried about Davy.”
Mike shrugged, unsure how to communicate the wordless information Davy had shared with him. “Davy’s pretty tough.”
Peter nodded, his gaze still focused far into the house. His face seemed to echo the same sad frustration that Mike felt—that Davy had already been through a kind of hell, and nothing they did now could change that.
“We should have just been happy he came back. We would have worked through all of this stuff eventually,” Mike said, and waited for Peter’s response.
Peter tore his gaze away from the window and raised his eyebrows. Mike smirked as a way of conceding his mistake, and it made the blond smile back.
“What do you think Micky and Davy are talking about?” Peter asked.
“I missed you, too,” Micky said.
Davy’s mind was clouded with what he’d done for Mr. Zero. For a month he had been able to push images down into some rarely visited recess of memory, but the interrogation had forced it all to come flooding back to him: the forced intimacy, the humiliation, a painful awareness of his own compulsory complacence in the worst kind of deception. Now Micky’s words cut through the replay, drawing a sharp line between the past and present. He pressed his face into Micky’s shoulder, drawing a hard breath that felt like a sob of relief.
The physicality of the situation overpowered Davy. He floated in that space for a while, not thinking, breathing in the scent of Micky’s shirt and his deodorant, feeling Micky’s fingers twisting gently in his hair. He was aware of the exact position of his body where it touched Micky’s; his face on Micky’s right shoulder, his left knee against Micky’s right thigh, their left and right hands behind them, barely contacting.
Davy looked up into Micky’s eyes, feeling inert. When Micky leaned forward and kissed him, it occurred to him that Micky had never kissed him before. It had always been the other way around. Micky’s fingers were still tangled in the back of Davy’s hair, as though he thought Davy might pull away before he was ready to stop. He pushed Davy backward onto the bed. He kissed Davy’s neck, and it sent electricity down Davy’s spine.
Suddenly Micky met Davy’s eyes, and giggled. Something shifted back into place in Davy’s mind. He giggled, too. Micky squeezed in next to him on the narrow bed and they smiled at each other in nervous silence.
For the first time in a long time, Davy forgot about Mr. Zero.
Before they turned out the light later that night, Mike watched Micky reading in bed for several minutes before his curiosity got the better of him. “Did you get anywhere with Davy?”
Micky looked up from his book so quickly that his glasses flew off his face and skittered to the floor. “Er, what?”
“Did he tell you anything else about Mr. Zero?”
“Oh!” Micky cried. He spent an inordinate amount of time searching for his glasses before he answered. “No, he didn’t want to talk about Zero.”
Mike had guessed as much, but he couldn’t help but wonder if Micky had learned anything useful. “What did you talk about, then?”
He scrunched up his face. “Uh, nothing that important.”
The catastrophe of interrogating Davy had given Mike a new respect for his bandmates’ privacy, but he was frustrated by Micky’s evasiveness. Micky tended to be an open book, a sharer of indiscriminate details, and his secrecy was even more annoying because he was such a bad liar. Micky must have noticed Mike’s irritable expression because finally he offered up one more piece of information.
“Really, all he did was apologize,” Micky said quickly.
Apologize for what? Mike wondered as Micky blushed and tried to turn out the light before Mike could see.
The next morning at breakfast, Micky was still buzzing with nervous energy. He felt as though his own emotions were finally coming into focus, but everything else remained blurry and undefined. He tapped his fork on his plate in a neat little rhythm, letting the sound pad the jittery spaces in his mind.
“Mick,” Mike said, grimacing. “Can you cut it out?”
He looked at the fork in his hand. “Sorry.” Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Davy hiding a smile behind an oversized mug of tea. He let himself meet Davy’s eyes for a second and Davy wiggled his eyebrows. Micky felt his heart thump so hard against his chest that he wondered if everyone could hear it.
“Maybe we should practice this morning,” Peter said, looking at the bandstand. “What do you think, guys?”
Everyone nodded in agreement. Practicing was the most normalizing thing they could do after everything that had happened recently. Micky knew it was true, but he worried that his head wasn’t entirely in it. He was going to make mistakes, and everyone would realize how distracted he was.
“I need to find my maracas, then,” Davy said, standing up suddenly. “Micky, can you help me look for them?”
Micky stood, probably too quickly, to follow him, and he noticed Mike and Peter shooting each other quizzical looks. He paused, but any explanation for the odd behavior caught in his throat. He looked at Davy standing in his bedroom, just out of Mike and Peter’s line of sight, a mock serious expression on his face, and he felt his stomach gently flip.
As soon as he was in the room, Davy shut the door on them.
“Wait—aren’t you worried that--” Micky stammered.
Davy replied in an unhesitating whisper, “No,” and grabbed Micky’s shirt by the collar with both hands, kissing him.
“Me neither,” Micky said.
Peter and Mike stared for a long time at the closed bedroom door, both unable to articulate exactly what was so confusing.
“Is Micky still angry about…?” Peter trailed off, not sure what had actually made Micky angry.
Mike frowned. “I don’t think so. He told me Davy apologized last night.”
“Apologized for what?” Peter asked. Mike shrugged. The two of them sat in a strange silence before their gazes both settled on a pair of maracas sitting on the bandstand, exactly where Davy always left them.
Suddenly, Mike made a face. “Do you smell smoke, Pete?”
An instant later, Mr. Zero was standing in their living room.
Peter felt a familiar fear return with a rush as he watched Mr. Zero walk across the room and pick up Davy’s maracas, shaking his head in mock remorse.
“It’s a shame,” Zero said, unsuccessfully hiding a smile.
“What in hell are you doing here?” Mike said. “Aren’t you tired of bothering us?”
“Of course, Nesmith. It bores me to death when my clients can’t follow the simple terms of a deal.” He turned the maracas over and over in his hands.
“You’re not taking Davy back,” Peter gasped, recoiling in horror. He was struck by an urge to confiscate the maracas, as though it could help matters. Zero shrugged.
“He didn’t break a deal with you,” Mike said. His voice was full of disgust. “He did everything you asked.”
“Boys, boys. You two don’t possess the powers of observation that I do. Let me help you.” Zero winked.
The door to the downstairs bedroom vanished without a sound. Inside, Micky and Davy were oblivious to the sudden lack of privacy. Davy was standing on his tiptoes, clutching the collar of Micky’s shirt with both hands. Micky had one hand in Davy’s hair, the other was sliding down Davy’s back, pressing the shorter man’s body closer. They were kissing passionately, unaware of their new audience.
Shock numbed Peter’s mind for a few moments. He thought he knew Micky and Davy better than anyone, and he was stunned to comprehend all he had missed. Slowly, his thoughts came back to him. The party. The stars in Davy’s eyes. Micky blushing on the beach. Details that Peter had disregarded as red herrings for Davy’s deception were the story all along.
Mr. Zero cleared his throat, and the two boys jumped apart, startled. Micky straightened his collar, unsure about how to recover from this invasion of privacy. Davy only stared at Mr. Zero, horror blooming on his face.
Zero let the maracas drop to the ground one at a time, and as he did, Davy began to sink to his knees. Peter knelt and put an arm around Davy’s shoulders as he crumpled, his confidence seeming to dissolve as he melted to the ground.
“I’m sure you know why I’m here, David, but maybe you should explain to your friends why you’ll never see them again.”
Davy’s breathing was ragged, and he seemed unable to reply.
“Very well, if you’re going to be dramatic about it, I’ll tell them. Boys-- one doesn’t get to keep talents granted by Satan himself without paying a price. I gave David the power to make people fall in love with him.”
Mike frowned. “We know.” He crossed his arms over his chest, his eyes boring into Zero’s disapprovingly.
“I don’t even want it,” Davy interjected. “I told you that.”
Zero looked at Davy as though he pitied him. “You certainly didn’t mind using it for your own benefit.”
Davy shook his head vigorously. “No, no, no. I didn’t--”
Zero looked pointedly at Micky. “Isn’t it obvious yet, Mr. Dolenz? He used his charm on you. How does that make you feel?” Micky didn’t move. His eyes were fixed on Davy, his expression unreadable.
Peter looked at Mike, hoping he’d come up with a plan, but Mike looked like he was a few minutes behind-- still in shock.
“I didn’t use them on Micky, I swear. I don’t even want these powers. I told you that. Mike, Peter, help,” Davy pleaded, his voice cracking. “Don’t let him take me.”
Mike gestured helplessly as Zero crossed the room. Peter could feel Davy trembling violently beneath his arm. He was terrified—just as Peter had been a month ago, in the same circumstances—and Peter had no idea how to help.
“Come now, David. I don’t have all day. As you know quite well, I’m a very busy man,” Zero said. “In fact, I’ve got an appointment in Hollywood this evening and I’d love your company.” Davy shook his head again, his face full of pain.
“Wait, you’ve got it all wrong, Mr. Zero,” Micky broke in. “Davy didn’t make me fall in love with him.”
Zero smirked and arched his eyebrows skeptically. Davy looked as though he had reached a new depth of despair.
“Uh, well, he did,” Micky added, his face flushing red. “But not because of any powers or anything. I think I was already in love with him before you came around. I just didn’t know it yet.” His eyes met Davy’s, and the corners of his mouth twitched upward.
Zero rolled his eyes. “That’s very convenient, but I doubt it would hold up in court-- and don’t even try, Nesmith.” Mike frowned and closed his mouth.
“And… charm?” Micky continued, still looking at Davy. “That’s not you. It’s like you’re playing a role. You’ve never charmed me, and when you tried it just confused me.”
“And it didn’t help at all that he could read your mind?” Zero asked skeptically. “To tell you what you wanted to hear?”
Micky shrugged. He thought about the things Davy had told him. I missed you. I’m sorry. “I think he’s been honest with me.”
“Hang on,” Mike snapped his fingers, finally coming back to himself. “How is it that Davy still has these powers—powers he doesn’t even want-- if his contract with you ended? Pete, can you still play the harp?”
Peter shook his head. “I haven’t been able to play it since Mr. Zero took Davy away.”
“That’s because when he took Davy away, your contract disappeared. Then why,” Mike pressed. “Why does Davy still have the ‘talents’ from his contract?”
Zero balked. Peter took in a sharp breath, realizing where Mike was going with the argument.
“You left him that way on purpose. You bet that he’d use them accidentally,” Peter said, glancing at Mike for reassurance. “And you’d get him back.”
Zero rolled his eyes. “So what?”
Mike walked across the room to poke Zero in the chest as he made his point. “So… Davy didn’t break his contract. You broke the contract by not actually ending it when the deal was done. He shouldn’t even have these powers. You can’t punish him for using them.”
A long, tense silence ensued. Peter tried to catch Davy’s eye, but Davy was still staring fixedly at Micky, a goofy expression on his face in spite of the tension. Peter sighed—even now, Davy was a hopeless romantic.
Finally, Zero laughed, reaching into his coat to withdraw a scroll of paper. “You can’t blame me for trying. I tripled my soul quota this month.” He scrutinized Davy with an exaggerated expression of sympathy. “I hope for your sake Dolenz is right, because things might get a little tense here when the magic is gone.”
The contract burst into flame, flared a deep blue, and disappeared. Peter felt Davy shudder as the contract disintegrated.
“Farewell, David. We made a great team. You could have gone quite far in Hell,” Zero said with a hint of mourning in his voice. Then he was gone.
Peter pulled Davy to his feet and watched him as he dusted off the knees of his pants, trying to decide if anything had changed now that Davy’s contract with Zero was over. His hair was disheveled and he looked tired, but otherwise he looked no different than before. Peter wondered if the gift had ever been more than a placebo, empty words that Zero had used to give Davy a supernatural confidence and poise. He remembered losing the ability to play the harp, and wondered if Davy felt the same invisible shift, like an old splinter sliding painlessly from beneath the skin.
An abrupt knock on the door made everyone jump. The door flew open and Babbitt marched in, glaring at Mike. “Have you boys been smoking in here? This is a non-smoking building.”
“No, Mr. Babbitt, we don’t smoke,” Mike said, but the air was still clouded with mist from Zero’s arrival and departure. Babbitt shook his head. He wasn’t buying it.
Davy’s face lit up, and he winked at Peter. “Oh Mr. Babbitt, you ruined the surprise. We were trying to make you a birthday cake, and we burnt it. Didn’t we, Peter?”
Peter nodded. “That’s right, the directions said to bake it at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, but I was making two cakes, so I baked them at 800 degrees for 60 minutes.”
“But it’s not my birthday,” Babbitt frowned.
“That’s what makes it such a great surprise!” Davy explained. “Now, come on, it was Peter’s idea and you’re going to make him cry if you don’t leave until we’ve figured it out.”
“Ah, when will that be?” Babbitt asked.
“I’m not a pastry chef. It could be weeks,” Davy said, ushering him out the house. After he closed the front door, he leaned against it and grinned sheepishly. Peter remembered the cool satisfaction on Davy’s face after he’d talked Babbitt out of their rent money just a few days earlier and wondered if there actually had been a change in his friend’s mannerisms. He couldn’t remember the last time Davy had seemed so nervous.
Peter nudged Mike. “Maybe we should get some fresh air.” Mike raised an eyebrow, but followed him outside.
“Don’t go into any music shops,” Mike called over his shoulder.
When they were alone, Davy took a few steps toward Micky and tilted his head. “You love me?” he asked, playing with the bottom of his shirt. “Since when?”
Micky shrugged and smiled, his expression softening as Davy moved closer.
“I love you, too.”
“I know,” Micky said. He looked at Davy’s hair—it was way too long now. His eyes—he looked tired. He seemed too thin, too pale. He looked at Davy’s lips as Davy’s smile faltered.
“Do you still?” Davy said, still fidgeting. His eyes were tense with anxiety. “Even without Zero’s gifts?”
Micky thought about how Davy had relied on Zero’s powers for confidence since he’d returned. With a rush of emotion, he remembered Davy’s nervous energy over the last 6 months, and how he’d assumed it meant Davy’s attention was focused elsewhere. Zero was wrong; Davy hadn’t used mindreading to tell Micky what he wanted to hear—he’d used it to build up the confidence to tell Micky how he felt. In fact, so many of his assumptions had been wrong that Micky found it impossible to believe that things would have worked out without Zero’s intervention in their lives. As horrible the experience had been, it was the reason he and Davy stood here now with their feelings laying open between them.
Micky felt himself shaking, and when he reached out and touched Davy’s shoulders he realized Davy was shaking, too. He wanted to laugh at the absurdity of being so nervous around each other, but he was overcome by an unusual urge to be serious.
“Especially without them,” Micky said, and he thought maybe he’d never said anything more true in his life. He bent over to kiss Davy as a familiar sense of falling roared in his ears.