"Well, if I weren't at the bookstore - and believe me, I'm very happy there - I think I'd like to choreograph Vegas dance shows."
Roman's face split into a grin. "There, you see that? That's the kind of wacky, off-the-wall thing I'm talking about." He leaned forward. "So what holds you back from bare br**sts and sequins? Risk? Sensationalism? What others will say?"
"No," I said sadly. "Simply the fact that I can't do it."
" 'Can't' is a - "
"I mean, I can't choreograph because I can't write routines. I've tried. I can't... I can't create anything, for that matter. Anything new. I'm not the creative type."
He scoffed. "I don't believe that."
"No, it's true."
Someone had once told me that immortals were not meant to create, that that was the province of humans who burned to leave behind a legacy after their short existence. But I'd known immortals who could do it. Peter was always concocting his original culinary surprises. Hugh used the human body as a canvas. But me? I had never been able to do it as a mortal either. The lack was in me.
"You don't know how hard I've tried to do creative things. Painting classes. Music lessons. I'm a dismal failure at worst, a copycat of another's genius at best."
"You've been pretty adept with this building project."
"Another person's design, another person's directions. I excel at that part. I'm smart. I can reason. I can read people, interact with them perfectly. I can copy things, learn the right moves and steps. My eyes, for example." I pointed to them. "I can apply makeup as well or better than any of the department store girls. But I get all my ideas and palettes from others, from pictures in magazines. I don't make up anything of my own. The Vegas thing? I could dance in a show and be perfect. Seriously. I could be the star of any revue - following another's choreography. But I couldn't write any moves myself, not in any major or significant way."
The wall was done. "I don't believe it," he argued. His passionate defense both surprised and charmed me. "You're bright and vivacious. You're intelligent - extremely so. You have to give yourself a chance. Start small, and go from there."
"Is this the part where you tell me to believe in myself? The sky is the limit?"
"No. This is the part where I tell you it's getting late, and I need to go. Your shelf is finished, and I have had a lovely evening."
We stood up and lifted the bookcase, leaning it against my living room wall. Stepping back, we studied it in silence. Even Aubrey appeared for the inspection.
Each shelf sat at a crooked angle. One of the sidewalls almost lined up straight with the backboard's edge, the other had a quarter-inch margin. Six holes were visible in the backboard. And most inexplicably of all, the whole thing seemed to lean slightly to the left.
I started laughing. And I couldn't stop. After a moment of shock, Roman joined me.
"Dear Lord," I said finally, wiping tears away. "That's the most horrible thing I've ever seen."
Roman opened his mouth in disagreement, then reconsidered. "It just might be." He saluted. "But I think it'll hold, Captain."
We made a few more mirthful comments before I walked him to the door, remembering to give him his coat back. In spite of his jokes, he seemed more genuinely disappointed about our shelf failure than I did, like he had let me down. Somehow, I found this more appealing than his perfectly timed lines or charming bravado. Not that I didn't love those too. I studied him as we said goodbye, thinking about his "chivalry" and passionate belief in me following my heart's desire. The lump of fear I always carried around people I liked softened a little.
"Hey, you never told me your crazy dream."
The aqua eyes crinkled. "Not so crazy. Just still trying to score that date with you."
Not so crazy.Just like mine. Companionship over fame and glamour. I took the plunge.
"Well, then... what are you doing tomorrow?"
He brightened. "Nothing yet."
"Then come by the bookstore just before closing. I'm giving a dance lesson." The dance lesson would have lots of people. It would be a safe compromise for us.
That smile faltered only slightly. "A dance lesson?"
"You have a problem with that? Are you changing your mind about going out?"
"Well, no, but... is it like the Vegas thing? You covered in rhinestones? Because I could probably get into that."
He shrugged, the charisma on high-beam. "Well. We'll save that for the second date."
"No. There's no second date, remember? Just the one, then that's it. We don't see each other anymore. You said so. Super-secret Boy Scout... whatever."
"That might have been an exaggeration."
"No. That would be a lie."
"Ah." He winked at me. "I guess those two aren't the same then after all, eh?"
"I - " My words halted at the logic.
He gave me one of his roguish bows before sweeping away. "Farewell, Georgina."
I went back inside, hoping I hadn't just made a mistake, and found Aubrey sitting on one of my shelves. "Whoa, be careful," I warned. "I don't think that's structurally sound."
Although it was late, I didn't feel tired. Not after this wacky evening with Roman. I felt wired, his presence affecting both my body and mind. Inspired, I shooed Aubrey off the bookcase and started transferring my stacks. With each new weight addition, I expected collapse, but the thing held.
When I got to my Seth Mortensen books, I suddenly remembered the cataclysm that had sparked this whole evening. Anger kindled in me once more. I'd heard nary a word from the writer the entire time. The getting-hit-by-a-car thing might still be a possibility, but my instincts doubted it. He had stood me up.
Half of me considered kicking his books in retaliation, but I knew I could never do that. I loved them too much. No need to punish them for their creator's shortcomings. Longingly, I picked up The Glasgow Pact, suddenly anxious to read my next five-page installment. I left the rest of my books unshelved and settled on the couch, Aubrey at my feet.
When I reached the stopping point, I discovered something incredible. Cady was developing a love interest in this one. It was unheard of. O'Neill, ever the charming ladies' man, got around all the time. Cady remained virtuously pure, no matter the number of sexual innuendoes and jokes she traded across the table with O'Neill. Nothing tangible had happened thus far in the book, but I could read the inevitable signs of what was to come with her and this investigator they'd met in Glasgow.
I kept reading, unable to leave that plotline hanging. And the farther I read, the harder it was to stop. I soon took a secret, irrational satisfaction at breaking the five-page rule. Like I was somehow getting back at Seth.
The night wore on. Cady went to bed with the guy, and O'Neill became uncharacteristically jealous and freaked out, despite his usual surface charm. Holy shit. I left the couch, put on pajamas, and curled up in my bed. Aubrey followed. I kept reading.
I finished the book at four in the morning, bleary-eyed and exhausted. Cady saw the guy a few more times as she and O'Neill wrapped up their mystery - as enthralling as ever, but suddenly less interesting compared to the interpersonal developments - and then she and the Scotsman parted ways. She and O'Neill returned to Washington, D.C., and the status quo resettled.
I exhaled and set the book on the floor, unsure what to think, mainly because I was so tired. Still, in a valiant effort, I got up from bed, found my laptop, and logged into my Emerald City e-mail. I sent Seth a terse message: Cady got some. What's up with that? Then, as an afterthought: By the way, the hockey game was great.
Satisfied I'd registered my opinion, I promptly fell asleep... only to be awakened a few hours later by my alarm clock.
Jesus. What had I been thinking? I had to work today. Not only that, I had to work in ten minutes. I had no time for "real" clothing or makeup. With a sigh, I shape-shifted form, my robe giving way to gray slacks and an ivory blouse, hair and makeup suddenly done to my normal, immaculate perfection. Brushing my teeth and adding perfume could not be faked, and after performing those tasks, I grabbed my purse and sprinted out.
When I reached my lobby, the desk clerk called out to me.
"Got something for you." He handed over a flat parcel.
Still conscious of the time, I quickly tore at the wrapping and stifled a gasp at what I found. Black Velvet Paint by Number Kit, read the package. A subheading proclaimed: Create Your Own Masterpiece! Contains Everything You Need to Paint Just Like a Real Artist! The "masterpiece" I could create depicted a desert landscape with a giant cactus to one side and a howling coyote on the other. An eagle soared in the sky, and a ghostly, disembodied Native American head floated nearby. Terribly stereotyped and cheesy.