"Because it's nonmainstream," he told her. "Everyone stays at the nice places."

"But I like nice things," she argued. "Don't you?"

"Well, yes," he said, frowning. "But that's not the point - "

"Then why would you want to stay at bad places?" she pressed.

"You're too young to understand," he said.

Seth chuckled. "Actually, I think she understands perfectly."

Andrea decided to rest shortly after that, but not before extracting a promise that someone deliver her dessert later on. After doing dishes (which was pretty easy with paper plates), our group dispersed into separate activities. Kendall, Brandy, Margaret, and Terry started up a game of Monopoly while Kayla and the twins settled down to watch The Little Mermaid. Ian joined them, excited for the chance to show how the movie was an example of capitalism destroying America. Seth and I curled up on a nearby loveseat, ostensibly to watch the movie, but instead used the time to catch up.

"How was it, really?" he asked me in a low voice. "I've been worried about you. Was it as bad as you thought?"

"No," I said, leaning my head against his chest. "It was actually . . . pretty good. Would you believe I have a job already ? Like . . . one that's not on Hell's payroll."

"You can't even get one of those here," remarked Seth.

"Yeah, the irony's not lost on me. I'm going to be a Vegas showgirl, complete with sequins."

Seth trailed his fingers through my hair. "That's actually kind of awesome. And hot. If you want to practice, I'd be more than happy to give you some constructive criticism."

I smiled. "We'll see."

There was a long pause. "So . . . it's real. This whole thing."

"Yeah," I said in a small voice. "It's real." I felt him tense and sensed the worry radiating off of him. "It's okay. We'll figure this out. It's still a month away."

"I know we will," he said. "You and I have overcome crazier things than this, right?"

"Crazier doesn't always mean harder," I pointed out. "I mean, when Peter tried to make a 'retro candle sconce' out of a Pringles can last month, that was pretty crazy - but it was also pretty easy to deal with once we found his fire extinguisher."

"You see?" said Seth. "This is what I love about you. I don't even consider that crazy. I consider that ordinary life with you, Georgina. You change all the definitions."

He pressed a kiss to my forehead. We fell silent and watched the movie, though I suspected Seth was paying as little attention as I was. We were both lost in our own thoughts, and I didn't really snap out of it until I heard Ian telling Morgan, "I like the original fairy tale better. It's pretty alternative, so you've probably never heard of it."

I glanced at the clock and sat up. "I'm going to go check on Andrea and see if she wants her dessert." Both Margaret and Terry were quick to offer to do it instead, but I waved them off, assuring them I was fine and that they should return to their game.

Andrea was awake, propped up on pillows and reading a book when I came in with the pie. "You didn't have to do that," she told me. "You should've asked Terry."

"He's busy buying and selling property," I told her, helping her settle the plate on her lap. "I couldn't ask him to interrupt that. Besides, he does plenty."

"He does," she agreed, smiling wistfully. "They all do. Even you. It's so strange, having others take care of me. I'm too used to looking after everyone else."

I settled down on a chair near her bed, wondering how often it must be filled lately. Andrea always had someone watching over her. "It's just for a little while longer," I said.

That got me another smile as she chewed a bite of pie. "You're very optimistic."

"Hey, why shouldn't I be? You look great today."

"Great 'ironically,' as Ian would say." She ran a hand through her limp blond hair. "But I do feel better than I have for a while. I don't know. It's deceptive, Georgina. There are days I feel confident I've beat every cancer cell in my body and others when I can't believe I'm still managing to walk this earth."

"Andrea - "

"No, no, it's true." She paused for more pie, but her eyes took on a vast, knowing look that reminded me eerily of Carter. "I've accepted it, come to terms with the fact that there's still a good chance I'll die. No one else has. No one else will talk about it. I'm okay with that. If that's what God wills for me, then so be it."

I felt a knot clench in my stomach. I couldn't say much about God, but I'd seen enough of Heaven and Hell to get angry when I heard humans accept their fate as part of some higher purpose. Half the time, it seemed to me the divine powers were making up this game as they went along.

"I'm not worried about me," Andrea continued. "But I am worried about them." That serenity faded, replaced by very real human concern, a mother's fear for her children. "Terry's strong. So wonderfully strong. But this is hard on him. He can't do it alone, which is why I'm so glad Seth's here. I don't know what we would have done without him. He's the rock supporting us all right now."

The anxiety inside me eased for a few moments, replaced by a spreading warmth as I thought about Seth. "He's wonderful."

Andrea set down the fork, finished, and extended her hand to me. "So are you. I'm glad you're part of our family, Georgina. If something happens to me - "

"Stop - "

"No, listen. I mean it. If something happens to me, I'll rest easy knowing the girls have you in their lives. Seth and Terry are great, but the girls still need a strong woman role model. Someone to help them through growing up."

"I'm not that good of a role model," I said, not meeting her eyes. I was a creature of Hell, someone full of weakness and fear. What could I possibly have to offer such bright, promise-filled creatures like the Mortensen girls?

"You are," said Andrea adamantly, squeezing my hand. "They love you and admire you so much. I know they're in good hands."

I swallowed back tears that were threatening to overwhelm me. "Well," I said. "They're in even better hands with you, since we all know you're going to get well soon."

Andrea nodded, giving me an indulgent smile that I suspected she'd perfected after weeks of listening to others insist she was on the verge of recovery. A yawn soon betrayed her, and I carefully took the plate away and asked if she needed anything else. She assured me she didn't.

I crept back downstairs and returned the plate to the kitchen, where I found Brandy and Margaret eating pie of their own. I did a double take back toward the living room. "What happened to Monopoly?"

"Kendall bought us out," said Margaret.

"Man, I hate playing with her," grumbled Brandy. "No one her age should be that good."

"Don't knock it," said Seth, strolling in. "She's going to be supporting us all in fifteen years." He rested a hand on Brandy's shoulder. "Did you ask Georgina?"

Brandy looked at her feet. "No."

"Ask me what?"

"It's nothing," she said.

"Clearly it's something," I replied, exchanging looks with Seth. "What's up?"

"Is this the Christmas dance you were talking about before ?" asked Margaret.

Brandy flushed. "A holiday dance. It's nothing."

"No way," I said. "I'm a big fan of dances. But isn't school out?"

"Yeah, but this is at church. It's a formal they have every year." She was using a It's no big deal tone, but her expression betrayed how interested she was.

The church part surprised me, since last I knew, the Mortensens didn't attend one. But obviously that had changed. Maybe Andrea's illness had played a role. Whatever it was, I could see faith wasn't on the line here, so much as a teenage girl's simple desire to participate in something fun with other people her age. It was a normal rite of passage, one I was guessing she didn't feel worthy of, in light of everything else going on right now with her family. No wonder she was hesitant to mention it. I wondered if maybe there was a boy involved too but certainly wasn't going to ask. She looked mortified enough to be having this discussion in front of her uncle and grandmother.

"You need to shop for a dress?" I guessed. People always called me for shopping. I used to be bothered by that but then figured I should accept what I'm good at. Brandy nodded, still looking embarrassed. "When is it?"

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