"So Andrea suffers because of me," I said, sinking into a chair. "Wonderful."
"It's Hell," said Roman. "What do you expect? If they want back at you for something, then they're going to find creative ways to do it."
"Seems like there are more direct ways to make me 'pay,' " I noted. "Especially seeing as they own the contract on my soul. We're assuming a lot that this is Hell."
Roman shrugged. "Not really. We already know they're interfering with your life. And healing and injuring are specific powers given to angels and demons."
"Do you think Carter could tell what visited her?" I asked. "If he looked at Andrea?"
"I think he could." Roman considered for a few moments. "The question is if he would get involved with it at all. You know how he is. Heaven, at least, makes a pretense of playing by the rules."
I nodded slowly, remembering my last conversation and how reluctant Carter had been to intervene. "True," I murmured.
"Well," said Roman, straightening. "You can ask him right now."
"He's coming to practice. I overheard him and Jerome talking about it yesterday."
Apparently, Seth wasn't the only one with a perverse interest in watching Jerome's misfits bowl for his honor. I stood up as well.
"Then let's go. I'll drive."
As we headed downstairs, I gave Roman a sidelong look. "Have you ever wondered how you'd look in a white beard and Santa hat?"
Roman returned my look warily. "No, I have not."
I quickly explained how the Mortensen girls hadn't seen Santa yet this year. He was already shaking his head before I finished the story.
"Come on, Roman. They need to see Santa. And I know you don't have any of those hang-ups like Walter does about multiple Santas existing together."
"Nope," agreed Roman. "My hang-up is about preserving my dignity, no matter how good the cause. Besides, I don't feel that guilty. If you really wanted them to see Santa, you could shape-shift and put us all to shame."
I scowled. It was annoying because it was true.
Roman and I were the last to arrive at the bowling alley, much to my dismay. I'd hoped to speak with Carter privately, but he and Jerome were already deep in conversation (and in their cups). The rest of the Unholy Rollers were waiting anxiously for their leader and gave me no end of grief for not wearing my shirt.
"I forgot," I said. "It's no big deal. I'll wear it for the real game."
Peter sighed. "But it helps build team solidarity now. And that sense of bonding and closeness will make us better."
"Actually," said Jerome, "hitting more pins would make you better."
"Look," I told Peter. "If I have to use the bathroom at some point, I'll shape-shift the shirt on."
"It's not the same," he grumbled.
Fortunately, Jerome's impatience allowed little time for further debate on the matter. He hadn't seen how our last practice had ended and was anxious to know if we'd improved. We had, to be fair, but I think Jerome was expecting us to all be throwing strikes every time. When it was clear that wasn't the case, he grew impatient and angry.
"How can you do that?" he demanded, after Cody made an impressive 9-1 spare. "Why can't you just hit them all the first time?" He glared at Roman. "Do something."
Roman eyed his father irritably, not liking his teaching skills questioned, especially since Cody was the best of us. "Why don't you? Why don't you give it a shot, Pop?" Jerome had been up pacing by the lane but wouldn't deign to actually touch a ball himself.
"Because it's not my job," Jerome retorted.
Roman rolled his eyes. "Then let me do mine."
While they bickered, I leaned over to Carter. "I need to talk to you. In private. Can you stick around after this?"
Carter had been watching the father-son exchange, but his eyes flicked briefly toward me when I spoke. He gave a small, barely perceptible nod. And when Jerome returned to his seat a few moments later, saying he wanted to leave and drink off his annoyance at the Cellar, Carter declined the offer.
"Nah," he said lazily, stretching. "I think I'll see how this pans out. There's no way Peter can keep throwing splits like that every time. It defies all the rules of physics."
Peter looked torn on whether he should be flattered or not by that.
"Fine," said Jerome. "If you've got any miracles you can work to help them, now's the time to cash them in."
"Noted," said Carter, waving as Jerome left.
My lesser immortal friends were agitated by our boss's disapproval, so I focused on the game and didn't bring anything up with Carter until we finished our practice. Jerome could criticize all he wanted, but Roman really was a good teacher. I think our greatest triumph was when Peter went four frames in a row without a split, thus returning the laws of physics back to their rightful state. True, he didn't get any strikes or spares either, but by that point, we were all so exhausted that we were willing to take what victories we could.
Roman, Carter, and I let the others leave ahead of us - once I'd promised I would definitely wear my team shirt next time, of course. As soon as we had relative privacy, I explained my problem to Carter. His face grew graver and graver as he listened.
"Daughter of Lilith," he said when I was done, "you know I can't interfere."
"I'm not asking you to," I said. "Not exactly. I just want to know if you could tell if someone - like a demon - had made Andrea Mortensen sick."
Carter's gray eyes were unreadable. "Yes. I can tell."
"Will you go see her with me and tell me what you sense? That's it. I'm not asking you to break any rules." Well, I didn't think I was. Honestly, I didn't understand half of these "rules" he was always talking about. "I just need the information."
"Okay," he said, after what felt like forever. "I'll go with you. Giving you that information doesn't violate anything."
"I don't suppose," said Roman, "that telling us why Hell would do this wouldn't violate anything either?"
I answered before Carter could. "We already know. To get to me. I've pissed somebody off, and they're going to make me suffer by making those I love suffer."
"Yeah, but why Andrea?" asked Roman. "I mean, no offense, but there are other ways to hurt you more. Why not make Seth suffer?"
I couldn't help but scoff. "Well. With this transfer, I kind of feel like he already - " I came to a screeching halt, once I realized what I'd been about to say. Roman was sitting opposite me in one of the worn leather chairs, and from the rabid look in his eyes, I thought he was going to reach over and shake me.
"What?" he demanded. "What did you just think of?"
"Andrea's sickness is terrible," I said slowly. "A horrible, unfair thing that could hurt her whole family. But there's something else. As long as she's sick, as long as the whole family needs help . . . Seth has to stay with them. He can't go to Las Vegas with me."
"And there it is," said Roman, wonder lighting his eyes. "That's what this transfer is about. To get you out of Seattle, away from Seth, and to make sure he can't follow."
"Eventually . . ." My stomach was twisting again, just like it always did when I thought of people being affected because of me. "Eventually he'd be able to. Andrea will either get better, or . . . or she won't."
"Yes, but how long?" demanded Roman. "How long will that take? Long enough for you to fall even more in love with your picture-perfect scenario - the one that they handcrafted for you? Long enough for you to move on with some other artsy introverted mortal? By the time he's free, it won't matter."
I was staring off at Roman but not really seeing him. Jerome had always been annoyed at my relationship with Seth, chastising me for being too attached to a mortal and letting it affect my job. Carter himself had said I was doing something that Hell didn't like. Was it possible this was it? That all of these forces were moving to keep Seth and me apart?
"If Hell wants me away from Seth, then why not just forbid it?" I asked. "Jerome's given me a hard time before. Or why not just drop me somewhere . . . anywhere . . . that isn't here? Why should they care that it's a place I'll fall in love with?"