“I want pancakes.”
“What? Right now?”
“No. For breakfast.”
“Oh.” He yawned. “You’d better get up early then.”
“Me? I’m not going to make them.”
“Yeah?” His sleepy voice carried mock sympathy. “Who’s going to make them for you then?”
“Am I? You think I’m going to make you pancakes? Is that how you think it’s going to be?"
"You’re so good at,” I whined. “Besides, if you do, I’ll sit on the counter in a short robe while you cook.”
His soft laughter segued into another yawn. “Oh. Well then.” He kissed my ear again. “Maybe I’ll make you pancakes.”
“You had your heart broken much?”
He paused. “Of course. Everyone does. Part of life.”
“Tell me her name. I’ll kick her ass. I don’t want anyone hurting you.”
He rested his face against my hair, his tone even and gentle when he spoke. “You’re wondrous and powerful and gifted, but even you can’t save me from hurting. No one can do that for anyone. I can make things perfect in the fictions I create, but the real world isn’t so kind. That’s just how it is. And anyway, for every bad thing in life, there are more good things to tip the balance.”
“Like little blonde nieces. And royalty checks. And you.”
“If not for me being stoned and clinging to a taco, it would have been terribly romantic.”
“Wait,” he said. “That’s not a word.”
I looked down to where, in a moment of desperation, I’d played zixic on a triple-word-score space.
“Uh, sure it is.”
“What’s it mean?”
“It’s sort of like…quixotic, but with more…”
I laughed out loud. I’d never heard him swear before.
“More zeal. Hence the z.”
“Uh-huh. Use it in a sentence.”
“Um…’You are a zixic writer.’“
“I don’t believe this.”
“That you’re zixic?”
“That you’re trying to cheat at Scrabble.” He leaned back against my couch, shaking his head. “I mean, I was ready to accept the whole evil thing, but this is kind of extreme.”
“Sometimes I do. Sometimes I look at him...and I remember how it was when I kissed him and felt that love. It makes me want that back. I want to feel it again. I want to return to it. Other times though...other times, I'm so scared. I listen to these guys...and to Jerome...and then the doubts gnaw at me. I can't get them out of my head. We've been sleeping together, you know. Literally. It hasn't been a problem so far, but sometimes I lie awake watching him, thinking this can't last. The longer it does...I feel like...like I'm standing on a high wire, with Seth at one end and me at the other. We're trying to reach each other, but one misstep, one breeze, one side-glance, and I'll fall over the edge. And keep falling and falling."
Carter leaned toward me and brushed the hair away from the side of my face. "Don't look down then," he whispered.”
“When you say ‘old friend,’ are we talking, like...since the Ice Age?”
“No. Of course not.”
“It’s only been about four hundred years.”
“Ah. Yes. Only four hundred.” A wry expression spread over his face. “Being with you is a continual experiment in perspective. Among other things.”
“Honestly, half the reason I like you is because you’re so...I don’t know. You like life.” He looked away from my eyes, amused as his thoughts spun, considering. “You’re fearless. Bold. Not afraid to enjoy yourself. You just go out there and do what you want. I like the whirlwind you exist in. I envy it. It’s funny, really.” He smiled. “I used to think I wanted someone exactly like me, but now I think I’d be bored to death with another version of myself. I’m surprised I don’t bore you sometimes.”
I gaped. “Are you kidding? You’re the most interesting person I know. Aside from Hugh maybe. But then, he installs breast implants and buys souls. That’s a hard combination to beat. But he’s not nearly as cute.”
“Dad told Uncle Seth not to screw things up,” she informed me as we washed our hands. “He said even if Uncle Seth is famous, him getting a woman like you defies belief.”
I laughed and smoothed down the skirt of my dress. “I don’t know about that. I don’t think your dad gives your uncle enough credit."
Brandy gave me a sage look, worthy of someone much older. “Uncle Seth spent last Valentine’s Day at a library.”
“Since when do we even play games?”
“Since when don’t we play games? Games of life, games of death. Games of love, of hope, of chance, of despair, and of all the myriad wonders in between.”
I rolled my eyes at the newcomer. “Hello, Carter.”
“What’s wrong?” asked Seth, seeing my frown.
“That new drummer. Alec. He hit on me earlier, and now he’s moving in on Casey. I think he’s one of those guys who thinks plying girls with liquor is the only way to get laid.”
“Wait. I thought I was the only guy who knew that secret.”
“For every bad thing in life, there are more good things to tip the balance.”
“Seth laughed when he saw me.
“Hey,” I said, poking him with my foot, “be nice.”
“I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen you look anything less than…” He paused, playing with word choice. “Well-planned.”
“Why, you silver-tongued romantic devil. That is the look I usually go for. Other women go for sexy or chic or beautiful. But me? Well-planned all the way.”
“You know what I mean. Besides, unplanned isn’t a bad look for you. Not bad at all.”
His voice sounded deliciously low and dangerous, and something ignited between us as we held each other’s eyes.”
“Ian’s the black sheep.”
“I thought I was the black sheep,” said Seth, sounding almost hurt.
“No. You’re the unfocused artistic one. I’m the responsible one. Ian’s the wild, hedonistic one.”
“What’s hedonistic?” asked Kendall.
Her father considered. “It means you run up a lot of credit card bills you can’t pay, change jobs a lot, and have a lot of…lady friends.”
“Look who's calling the cauldron black."
"Kettle. It’s a kettle. Get your metaphors right."
"That wasn’t a metaphor. It was a, you know..." He stared off into space, blinking. "One of those things that’s symbolic of another thing. But isn’t the same thing. Just like it."
"You mean a metaphor?"
"No! It’s like a story...like...a proverb! That’s it."
"I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a proverb. Maybe it was an analogy."
"I don’t think so.”
“His eyes, I’d long since discovered, could be as eloquent and expressive as his pen. The messages they sent me now hardly seemed decent for a public setting.”
“I want to see you in the throes of orgasm ... I want to see your whole body writhing, your lips open as you drink in your own pleasure. Only yours, no one else’s. Just you, completely given up to ecstasy.”
“You know, you still owe me pancakes. I think I could go for…apple cinnamon ones now. “
“Apple cinnamon? You sure are demanding.”
“It’s all right. I think you’re man enough for it.”
“Thetis, if I actually believed you had either apples or cinnamon in your kitchen, I’d make them for you right now.”
I didn’t answer. I was pretty sure I had some year-old Apple Jacks, but that was about it.”
“No," he said, voice thick and husky. His fingers dug into the chair's arms. "You'd better not get too close."
I stopped, laughing softly. "You don't strike me as the assaulting type, Mortensen."
"Yeah, well, there's a first time for everything.”
“Nah. I’m a consultant, of course. Everyone’s favorite nondescript yet well-paid white-collar job.”
“Carter leaned toward me and brushed the hair away from the side of my face. "Don't look down then," he whispered.”
“No, but ..." But I had felt something from another person. Someone who spent time with Alec. The last card in my head flipped over. "I know who it is. It's him. That guy."
"Of course," said Carter dryly. "I knew it was that guy. It's always that guy.”
“That's what humanity is: a series of successes and failures, a testing of one's own nature and aptitude. Neither the body nor the soul can sustain such a state. Eventually it consumes a person”
“Seth moved behind me, his presence steady and reassuring. Waiting to catch me, even though I refused to fall just yet.”
“Then, as one hand tightened on me and his other ran gently over my hair, I noticed something. He didn't smell right.”
“You'd think an angel who hung around with employees of evil would be a good influence, but at times, he seemed worse than we were.”
“Heat burned in his eyes, something a little darker and more intense than our typical bantering called for. "In fact, I'm downright unstoppable now. A god, babe. Come on back to the office, and I'll show you."
I walked away, giving him a taunting look over my shoulder, still playing it light. "Not my religion, babe.”
“I rolled my eyes at the newcomer. "Hello, Carter." I'd known the angel was lurking in the kitchen, just as Peter had felt me coming down the hall. "Where's your better half tonight? I just saw him. I thought he was coming too."
Carter strolled in and gave me one of his mocking smiles, gray eyes alight with secrets and mirth. He wore his usual transient ware, ripped jeans and a faded T-shirt. ... "Am I my brother's keeper?"
Classic Carter answer. I looked to Hugh, who was, in a manner of speaking, our boss's keeper. Or at least a sort of administrative assistant.
"He had to take off for a meeting," said the imp, stacking twenties. "Some kind of team building thing in L.A."
I tried to imagine Jerome participating in a ropes course. "What kind of team building do demons do exactly?”
“Using words to talk of words is like using a pencil to draw a picture of itself, on itself. Impossible. Confusing. Frustrating ... but there are other ways to understanding.”
“The older I grow and the more I abandon myself to God's will, the less
I value intelligence that wants to know and will that wants to do; and
as the only element of salvation I recognize faith, which can wait patiently,
without asking too many questions.”
“In all her intercourse with society, however, there was nothing that made her feel as if she belonged to it... She stood apart from mortal interests, yet close beside them, like a ghost that revisits the familiar fireside, and can no longer make itself seen or felt.”
“The more time I spent with him, the more I knew the feelings weren't going away.”
“You have peace," the old woman said, "when you make it with yourself.”
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