Pylar wiped down the table top, pushing his weight into the rag until stale dirty water spread over the top and he could wipe it up again. Raining again. The worst part about the rain was that fewer people came to the diner and the day drug on. A couple sharing and umbrella walked past the windows. Their shoulders pressed together and his lips in her ear, she smiled and she laughed. He pointed to the diner as they stopped at the front door. They stopped. She said something, and then they moved on. Pylar tossed the dish rag into the dish basin, wiped his hands on his apron, and grabbed his phone from his pocket. He glanced over the time; he'd be off in an hour, but the hour couldn't come soon enough. He slipped his phone away, picked up the wash basin, and took it back to the kitchen.
Pylar placed the basin on the sink's edge by the woman washing the dishes — his mom. He leaned against the sink and crossed his arms, shoulders sinking.
"Don't look so sad." His mom bumped him with her elbow. When he looked up, she smiled at him, but he didn't give one back. "You and Maddox still on for tonight?"
"Yeah." Pylar dug his phone out of his pocket again and opened the message chain between them. He ran his thumb over his phone screen, flicking up and down through the messages too quickly to read. "He said if you want anything new, let him know. He's bringing over dinner."
"What he usually brings is fine." She moved to the center sink to rinse the dishes then placed them in the third sink. "He always brings more than enough."
"The perks of working in pizza."
"It's a little more than that."
The dining room door rung as it opened and shut.
"Like, he works for a really good company. We're not bringing home a bunch of leftovers every day, are we?" Pylar's mom returned to the first sink to scrub a pan.
"Right. They must be making bank to let him walk out with that much food every week." Pylar pushed off the sink and slipped his phone away again.
"Anyway, I'll be working late tonight, so make sure you save me some."
"Can do." Pylar waved his hand lazily and entered the dining room. Eats was the kind of diner where you picked your seat when you came in. If you needed to move chairs or combine tables, you had to ask for staff, but to sit at a booth or at the counter, it was up to the customer to place themselves. From behind the counter, his coworker Big Jimmy dug out a couple of menus and held them out for him. "Thanks," Pylar said, taking them, and went on to serve the last group who would enter the diner during his shift, but one that he would continue working with until they left so he could get the whole tip — not pass it over at the end just so someone else could claim half of it for doing barely any of the work. This held him twenty minutes over.
By the time he made it home, Maddox and his bike were tucked under the porch. The pizza stacked in his arms were a little soggy from drizzle of rain and melted between the cold air and hot food inside.
"What are you doing out in the rain?" Pylar said. "Where's your key?"
Maddox smiled. "I must've forgot it at home." He had black hair, short and mostly neat except from the wet hat hair combed back by fingers after removing his Hot Slice hat which was now tucked into the back pocket of his wet slacks. Even though they were black, where the splashing successfully climbed up his legs and clung to his thighs was still obvious. His black-framed glasses were foggy and covered his eyes. He reached to take them off to wipe them, but struggled to balance the pizza boxes and instead awkwardly waved at Pylar, catching the boxes just as a plastic bag on top of the boxes tried to make its escape. Pylar caught it before it fell off.
"Thanks, Py," Maddox said.
"Sorry I'm late—"
"I got held up. People eat really slow on rainy Thursday afternoons. You know that?"
"Yeah. I'm pretty sure you've said that before."
Pylar unlocked the front door and waited for Maddox to go in first before he followed.
"They're waiting for yesterday's pie." Maddox immediately entered the living room and set the pizza boxes down on the coffee table and a bag of two liter bottles. He took his glasses off his face and wiped them on his wet shirt. Though the fog cleared, they smeared more with sweat and water as his shirt seemed soaked through.
"Be right back," Pylar said. He tossed his keys in the key bowl and went back out the door to grab the mail. When he came back in, Maddox was pulling one of Pylar's shirts over his head and his wet slacks had been traded out for a pair of sweat pants. Maddox slipped into the kitchen and grabbed a couple of plates, then filled a pair of glasses with ice and brought them out to the table while Pylar stood in the door way and flipped through the mail.
"Expecting something?" Maddox sat on the couch's armrest and crossed his arms. His bare skin prickled with goosebumps at the chair. A bit of water dripped from his hair and down his neck. He shook his head instantly.
"Just bills. Mom doesn't usually tell me if we're behind."
"You think you're behind?"
"Probably." He thumbed past a catalog and two credit card offers. "We usually are." He stopped on a black envelope, the outside smooth, silky, and shiny. Around the edges was detailed in gold and the letters were thick and matched. Where the return address should have been, the letters "H V N" were printed without an address underneath and beneath it was Pylar's name as the address.
"What's that?" Maddox came over.
"I dunno." he turned it over in his hands. "Probably another credit card. They get kind of fancy with the letters to make it look more legitimate.
"H V N?" Maddox read. "Never heard of them before." He pulled his phone out of his pocket and put the letters into Google. When he hit search, Harley Viera-Newton came up, a female model. "I'm getting women's clothing. Maybe it was meant for your mom?"
"Kind of hard to mix up Pylar and Valerie."
"Maybe they think you're a girl." Maddox grinned and bumped his arm into Pylar. "They saw the curly red hair and freckles and were like, everything else be damned! That man is a woman!"
"I guess we'll find out, huh?" Pylar said more like defiance than anything. He slid his finger into the lip of the envelope and ripped it open. Inside was hard card stock folded over. The colors and design matched the letter on the outside. The front of the note read, 'You are invited.'
"You were right. Looks like another credit card," Maddox said before he took the empty envelope from Pylar's hands. "They must be something though. This paper is... sparkly."
Pylar opened the letter and read through it.
"How much they offering you?" Maddox headed back to the couch and tossed the envelope onto the table beside the pizza boxes.
"It's... not a credit card..." Pylar turned the letter over in his hand, checking the back for more of the message he might've missed, maybe a slip of paper that could fall out of some unseeable fold and tell him it was all a joke, but there wasn't anything.
"What's it for?" Maddox came up beside Pylar and twisted his head to look over the message.
"I'm not... entirely sure yet." The letter was simple: an invitation in plain letters and language. It described HVN, an exclusive club located downtown by the city center, though Pylar couldn't recall any time actually seeing a building that might be a night club. It stated he was invited to the March Masquerade and below was a ticket and the address. It told him to dress nicely, but a mask would be provided on the premises. "Some kind of club."
"Like... a strip club?" Maddox's glasses fell down his nose and he looked over the top of them at the note. "What other kind of place would be named heaven?"
"A church, maybe?"
"Dude, no church has the balls to name itself Heaven. I mean, if I was a member, I'd be scared to attend. Lightning could strike at any minute for that kind of blasphemy."
"So maybe it's a scam." Pylar closed the folded letter and tossed it on the coffee table as he passed. He dropped onto the couch and melted into the seats. His entire body gave out and he relaxed into the used cushions that had become so accustomed to his shape. After a moment, he sat up and reached for a plate and one of the pizza boxes.
Maddox sat down beside him and picked the card up. He looked at it on the inside. The paper felt velvety and soft to touch. The gold letters sunk into the paper, slightly embossed. "This is a pretty expensive scam. What would they get out of you?"
"Who knows." Pylar dropped a couple pieces of pepperoni pizza onto his plate. "It could be an empty warehouse downtown. They could be looking for some hot booty to ship around places or make carry things." Pylar set his plate aside and opened one of the plastic bags, inside two Styrofoam boxes stacked on top of each other, greasy paper slipping out between the lips. He placed both of them on the table before opening them. One held a stack of chicken wings with a mild-looking skin. The other contained rolls, doused in butter and garlic.
"This is literally down the street from the lake." Maddox shifted to pull his cell phone from his pocket. Maddox typed the address into the search bar and when the results came up.
Maddox elbowed Pylar and then did it again he left his place on the table and turned to him.
Maddox tilted his phone toward Pylar. Illuminating the screen was the same black and gold, simple and elegant style. At the top of the page was an odd, gold symbol made of a few, swirling lines that intersected, getting thinner in the middle and spreading out near the ends. In the center of the intersecting lines was an oval—or two half circles and a dot in the center, making it appear as a half-lidded eye or an ancient alchemy symbol. Underneath the symbol were the usual banner links like Welcome, Press, Soiree, Membership, Boutique, and HvnX. Under the header was a gold, line art image of a building, four stories tall, columns, large windows, and a classic look to it and underneath the image, a header read, 'Hvn is a Private, Members-Only club. Hvn exists to serve the social and entertainment needs of our members and guests by maintaining the highest standards of excellence in all endeavors, by providing creative and culturally rich programs and by providing a safe and comfortable environment for personal exploration and complete self-exposure. Members and guests are urged to leave their masks door to explore their true selves and untamed desires.'
"What mailing lists are you subscribing to?" Maddox said.
"Nothing... like that." Pylar took the phone from Maddox and slowly moved his finger down to shift through the screen. Pylar tossed the phone back at Maddox. It slid over his lap and fell between the cushion and the armrest.
Maddox dug the phone out and tapped his finger against the screen until it lit up again. He dragged his finger down to read what little was left on the opening page.
Halfway down the page were the words, 'ADMITTANCE IS BY APPLICATION ONLY.' Then the end of the paragraph read, 'We screen for aesthetic appeal, professional status, and what one would contribute to Hvn when making decisions on who may join our society.'
"It says you have to apply to get an invite."
"Put that thing away." Pylar took a bite of pizza.
Maddox set the phone on the table and grabbed a plate for himself. He leaned back and propped his feet on the edge of the table. He set his plate in his lap and took a bite out of a garlic knot.
Pylar grabbed the remote and turned the TV on. He sunk back into the couch and flipped through the channels, stopping on something where a shiny black car zoomed away from a blazing fire at a warehouse. It gained on a semi, and, catching up behind it, a pair of old police cruisers and a large truck, lifted higher than it should've been from the ground.
"We should check it out," Maddox finally said.
"What?" Pylar almost didn't get the words out between his disbelieving chuckle.
"We should check this place out. It's right downtown. I don't know how we could've ever missed it and hell, you were invited. It'd be pretty rude not to go, right?" Maddox set his plate on the couch armrest and picked the letter up again.
"Invited to what, even?"
Maddox picked up his phone and clicked on the link HvnX. It rerouted to a login page similar to a login page. Above the username and password boxes, it read, 'For those above the angels.' Below, it read, 'Invitation Only?' Maddox tapped the link and it prompted him for an eight-character code. He looked back at the letter and at the bottom saw a random string of letters and numbers. He input the combination and hit submit.
The page refreshed and said, 'Thank you for RSVPing. Please come in your Sunday's best. We look forward to meeting you. '
"Invited to what, Mad?"
Maddox stared at the screen then hit the power on the side of his phone. He placed the phone and the letter on the table and picked up his plate of pizza again. "I guess we'll find out on Saturday at 8:00PM sharp."