Nearly every day Caetano would have a new mistress. Sometimes they would rent him out for multiple days, and some days he would spend at the hub. There were other children working at the hub, some girls, some boys. Many of them were orphans. Cae told them that he was an orphan too. That was partially true. His mother was dead. His father… Well that was a different story. He didn’t want to tell them about his father, because then he would have to admit the whole truth. That he was a murderer. This was the only place that accepted him. He couldn’t lose this.
The very first day, he had shown up covered in crimson blood, his left ear hacked and gory. The raw wound spewed red plasma that caked his hands and neck, turning a shade of brown as it dried beneath his fingernails, where he couldn’t wash it off. He had lied about where he got the wound, of course. He said it was inflicted by the man who killed his father. Over the years, after the initial stitches and bleeding, it had become a curved nub, a vestige of its former self. He had hoped that it would grow back like a lizard’s tail, but it never did. The wound stayed with him internally as well as externally. He grew out his hair so that it covered his ear. He still kept his mother’s earring. It was the only thing he had left of her.
When people saw his ear, they became frightened, as if his injury made him more like an alien than of their own species. He didn’t like being different. He didn’t like people being frightened of him. He didn’t want to be reminded of what he was. That’s why he hid his ear from sight.
When Caetano was fifteen, he met Innes Stellar.
“Your cheekbones are magnificent,” the boy said, running his thumb across Caetano’s face. “This will be challenging, but I will succeed. Follow me.”
At first, Cae was confused because his new mistress was a boy, a boy not much older than he was. Maybe this boy had mistaken Caetano for a girl because of his long hair.
“I’m a boy,” he pointed out.
“I am well aware of that. Now follow me.”
Caetano wasn’t sure what to make of this. He glanced back at Marquis. Marquis gave him a nod to go ahead, so he followed the boy outside of the Hub. After a long walk, they arrived at their destination, what looked like an abandoned warehouse. The walls that were once white had been caked in shades of brown and red. It was probably rust and dirt, but those colors reminded Cae of the dried blood that he had scraped from his skin all those years ago.
“Welcome to Innes Stellar’s personal art studio,” the boy said with a grin.
Cae was surprised that Innes had told him his name. Innes led him inside and positioned him to stand on a wooden block.
“Do not move an inch from that position. I will be right back.”
Innes had said that he wanted to paint Caetano. It would be a shame to ruin his nice clothes. Caetano began to strip his clothes off. This was probably Innes plan all along. His mistresses often had creative ways of getting him to undress.
Innes walked back into the room carrying a few brushes and some paint. His eyes grew wide when he saw Caetano. Cae smirked, as if to say, come and get me Master.
But Innes lowered his head and pushed his thumb and forefinger over his eyes.
“No, no, no,” he muttered. “I told you not to move. The shadows were perfectly aligned. The drapery of fabric was breathtaking. You messed this all up. Put your clothes back on.”
Caetano was speechless. He had never been rejected like that before. It was his job to follow instructions, so he did as he was told. He stood still for a long time while Innes repositioned his face and fluffed his collar. He thought he was finally done when Innes stepped back and nodded in satisfaction, but he was sorely mistaken. Now he had to stay still while Innes painted a picture of him.
Maybe it was Innes’s pale hair that reminded Caetano of vanilla cake. Maybe it was his utter rejection of Caetano. Maybe it was that Innes was so much closer to his age and his cold fingers had made Cae’s skin feel tingly.
Whatever the reason, Cae wanted nothing more than to run his tongue all over Innes’s face and neck. He wanted Innes to paint Cae’s skin the colors of fire.
“Master-” Cae began.
“Don’t talk,” Innes interrupted. He was still looking at his canvas. After a pause, he continued. “But if you were allowed to talk, I would rather you call me Innes.”
Innes would look at Cae, but not the way he wanted to be looked at. Innes’s eyes would scan Cae, taking analytical measurements and memorizing shadows and patterns and colors, but this wasn’t what Cae wanted. After what seemed like a long wait, Caetano was finally allowed to step down from his position.
“Can I see it?” Caetano asked.
“It’s not done yet.”
“But you’re done with me.”
“Not entirely. I will work on it some more and have you return tomorrow. This project shouldn’t take more than a few days.”
“The other project will take longer.”
“I don’t think I mentioned another project.”
“Not yours, mine.”
Caetano just smirked and left. He would make Innes his no matter what it took.