After a wardrobe change of my own and a brief stop home, I eventually made my way to Burt's Bowling Alley. Roman had chosen it for our immortal league practice. It was also the site of a date he and I had had way back when, during our ill-fated romance. Living with him day to day, coping with the mundane absurdities of roommate life, it was easy to forget about that part of our history. There had been a time when I thought I was falling in love with Roman, though eventually my feelings for Seth had won out. Learning Roman's true nature - and about his plot to kill Carter - hadn't helped our fledgling relationship. He'd given all that up, thankfully, but there were times I wondered just how much Roman still cared for me.
There was no sign of our illustrious teacher yet, but Seth was already there, along with Cody, Peter, and Hugh. Seeing me enter, Seth shot me a desperate, grateful look. I could only imagine what conversation he'd been subjected to while trapped with them. As I approached, the four guys' shirts instantly caught my eye. Seth was wearing a Say Anything T-shirt. That was typical of him. What wasn't so typical was that my three immortal friends were all wearing identical light blue shirts. Before I could get a good look at them, Cody leaped up and thrust a folded-up blue shirt toward me.
"Here," he said. "I can't wait to see what all four of us look like together in these."
The shirt was a standard bowling style, short-sleeved and button-down. My name was embroidered on the front. Flipping it over, I found THE UNHOLY ROLLERS done in elaborate, flaming letters. I arched an eyebrow.
"Really?" I said. "This is what we're going with?"
"It's clever on so many levels," Peter said excitedly. "It's a take on 'holy rollers,' and then when you think about the fact that we're rolling balls - "
"Yeah, yeah," I said, putting the bowling shirt on over my turtleneck. The size was off a little, and I shape-shifted to adjust it. "I know what the definition of a pun is, Peter. I just didn't realize we were going with something so . . . blatant."
"It was either that or the Sinsationals," said Hugh.
I made a face and settled into the crook of Seth's arm. "I think you went with the right choice. And at least they're in a tasteful color."
Hugh and Cody exchanged pleased, triumphant looks. Peter scowled.
"There's nothing wrong with pink," he said. "I think it would have made a statement."
"Yeah," said Hugh. "A statement that we're pansy-asses that Nanette's team could clean the floor with."
Peter gave a long-suffering sigh. "Why must you be so insecure about your masculinity? If Georgina had been around when we voted, I bet she would've gone with pink too."
At once, his words reminded all of them of why I'd been gone. Their faces fell. "Is it true then?" said Cody. "You're leaving?"
"Afraid so," I told him, attempting cheerfulness I didn't feel. "Next month, I'm Vegas-bound."
"But that's not fair," Cody protested. "We need you here."
Hugh gave him a rueful smile. "You haven't been in this business long enough, kid. 'Fair' doesn't enter into it."
Cody didn't like the reference to his lack of experience, but Hugh was right. Cody hadn't been immortal long enough to go through a transfer or the organizational machinations of HR. Peter and Hugh had, and while they might be sad at the thought of leaving me, they also knew that there were some things you just can't fight.
"Don't feel too bad for me," I said breezily. "Bastien's working there now. And I've already got a job as a dancer."
"You can't even get a job here," pointed out Peter.
"Like a topless dancer?" asked Hugh.
"No," I said. "But scantily clad in sequins."
Hugh nodded in approval. "That'll work."
Cody was still wearing his heart on his sleeve. His gaze fell on Seth. "Well. I guess one good thing is that with your job, you can live anywhere. Easy enough relocation."
I didn't know what Seth's thoughts on that were exactly, but he managed a brave smile. "We'll see." Suddenly all I could think about was my last conversation with Andrea, when we were talking about Seth. He's the rock supporting us all right now.
An uncomfortably warm feeling spread over me, tinged with the scent of brimstone. The other immortals and I looked up as Jerome entered, trailed by a pensive-looking Roman. I saw my surprise mirrored on my friends' faces.
"I didn't know you were coming," I said to Jerome, when the father-and-son duo reached us. "I thought you'd made it clear you weren't part of the team."
"I'm not," he said, eyeing the worn leather chairs with disgust. "But seeing as my honor is riding on this so-called team, I figured I'd best make sure you're on the right track."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence in my abilities," said Roman, entering our names into the lane's computer.
"I don't doubt your abilities," said Jerome, deigning to sit at last. "But I also know a little encouragement can sometimes go a long way in furthering success."
"I assume by 'encouragement,' you're referring to your extreme displeasure if we fail," I noted.
Jerome's lips twitched. "Exactly, Georgie. Besides, I also wanted to hear - "
Jerome fell silent as his gaze rested on Seth's T-shirt, depicting John Cusack's iconic stance with the boom box over his head.
"Nice shirt," said Jerome at last.
"Um, thanks," said Seth.
Jerome turned back to me, like nothing had happened. "As I was saying, I wanted to hear about your Las Vegas weekend."
"How considerate," I said. Beside me, I felt Seth shift restlessly. I knew my other immortal friends made him uncomfortable in just a weird sort of way, but Jerome unnerved Seth in a whole other way. No, it was more than unnerving. Jerome scared Seth, which made sense because half the time, Jerome scared us too. "I'm sure you have enough eyes and ears to tell you exactly how my weekend went."
"True," said Jerome. "But that doesn't mean I don't enjoy getting your insight."
"Right," I said. "Because my happiness means so much to you."
Roman crossed his arms over his chest and fixed us with an irritated look. "Sorry to interrupt, but do you want to practice or not?" He gave no indication that he'd grilled me on every detail of the aforementioned weekend. From his expression now, you'd think that was the last thing on his mind.
"Certainly," said Jerome magnanimously. He gesture toward the lane, like some monarch kicking off a celebration. "Begin."
Roman rolled his eyes and then turned to us Unholy Rollers. "Okay, first, let's see what level you're all at."
Roman's lessons hadn't stuck with me over the last year, though I acquitted myself well with six pins on my first roll and two on the next. Cody surprised everyone with a spare, and Hugh, after first rolling a gutter ball, matched my eight. Peter created a perfect split on his first roll and hit nothing on the second. Seth, in a rare moment of bravery, leaned toward Jerome.
"Are there going to be handicaps in this tournament?"
"That," said Jerome, dark eyes on the gaping hole Peter had made, "is an excellent question."
Even Roman seemed a little surprised at how all over the map we were. He jumped into his role as coach, helping each of us with our own specific problems. Cody was the only one of us who needed little assistance and threw strikes and spares pretty regularly. I proved surprisingly correctable and was soon throwing spares about two-thirds of the time, which I thought was a decent rate. No amount of instruction seemed to help Peter, whose rolls were increasingly bizarre and erratic. Hugh improved slightly but still had a tendency to always throw right, which he just couldn't shake.
"Here," said Seth, standing up as Hugh was about to finish a frame. "Can I do it? I used to roll exactly like you do."
Hugh relinquished the ball willingly, and Seth stepped up to the line. I sat up with interest, never having seen Seth bowl. He showed Hugh his technique first, miming a throw that curved slightly left. Then Seth threw for real, releasing a fast, neat ball that cleaned up Hugh's leftover pins.
"Jesus Christ," said Jerome in disgust. "I'm going to have to see if Nanette will let me put mortals on the team. It's the only way I'm going to save face."
"Hey," said Roman. "Give them a chance. I can work miracles in a week."