There were just a couple of teeny-tiny things about my relationship with Seth that gave me pause. One had been eating at me for a while, one I kept trying to ignore. But now, suddenly, with my immortal friends watching me, I finally drummed up the courage to address it.
"It's just . . . I don't suppose any of you told Seth my name, did you?" Seeing Peter open his mouth in confusion, I immediately amended, "My real name."
"Why would that ever come up?" asked Hugh dismissively, returning to his texting.
"I don't even know your real name," said Cody. "Are you saying it's not Georgina?"
I regretted the words already. It was a stupid thing for me to worry about, and their reactions were just proving that point.
"Do you not want him to know your name?" asked Hugh.
"No . . . it's fine. I just, well. It's just weird. A month or so ago, when he was half-asleep, he called me by it. Letha," I added, for Cody's benefit. I managed to say the name without tripping over it. It wasn't a name I welcomed. I'd shed it centuries ago, when I became a succubus, and had been taking assumed names ever since. In banishing that name, I'd banished that former life. I'd wanted to erase it so badly that I'd sold my soul in exchange for everyone I'd known forgetting I existed. That was why the conversation with Seth had totally blindsided me. There was no way he could've known that name.
You are the world, Letha . . . he had told me drowsily.
He hadn't even remembered saying it, let alone where he'd heard it. Don't know, he'd told me, when I questioned him about it later. Greek myths, I guess. The River Lethe, where the dead go to wash away the memories from their souls . . . to forget the past. . . .
"That's a pretty name," said Cody.
I shrugged noncommittally. "The point is, I never told it to Seth. But somehow, he knew it. He couldn't remember anything about it, though. Where he heard it."
"He must have heard it from you," said Hugh, ever practical.
"I never told him. I'd remember if I had."
"Well, with all the other immortals traipsing through here, I'm sure it came up from one of them. He probably overheard it." Peter frowned. "Don't you have an award with your name on it? Maybe he saw that."
"I don't really leave my 'Best Succubus' award lying around," I pointed out.
"Well, you should," said Hugh.
I eyed Carter carefully. "You're being awfully quiet."
He paused in drinking from the wine box. "I'm busy."
"Did you tell Seth my name? You've called me it before." Carter, despite being an angel, seemed to have a genuine affection for us damned souls. And like an elementary school boy, he often thought the best way of showing that affection was by picking on us. Calling me Letha - when he knew I hated it - and other pet names was one such tactic he used.
Carter shook his head. "Sorry to disappoint you, Daughter of Lilith, but I never told him. You know me: model of discretion." There was a slurping sound as he neared the wine's end.
"Then how did Seth find out?" I demanded. "How'd he know the name? Someone must have told him."
Jerome sighed loudly. "Georgie, this conversation is even more ridiculous than the one about your job. You already got your answer: either you or someone else slipped up and doesn't remember. Why does everything have to be so dramatic for you? Are you just looking for something to be unhappy about?"
He had a point. And honestly, I didn't know why this had bugged me so much for so long. Everyone was right. There was no mystery here, nothing earth-shattering. Seth had overheard my name somewhere, end of story. There was no reason for me to overreact or assume the worst - only a tiny, nagging voice in my head that refused to forget about that night.
"It's just weird," I said lamely.
Jerome rolled his eyes. "If you want something to worry about, then I'll give you something."
All thoughts of Seth and names flew out of my head. Everyone at the table (except Carter, who was still slurping) froze and stared at Jerome. When my boss said he had something for you to worry about, there was a strong possibility it meant something fiery and terrifying. Hugh looked startled by this proclamation too, which was a bad sign. He usually knew about hellish mandates before Jerome did.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"I had a drink with Nanette the other night," he growled. Nanette was Portland's archdemoness. "Bad enough she still won't let me forget the summoning. She was also going off on some bullshit about how her people were more competent than mine."
I glanced briefly at my friends. We weren't exactly model employees of Hell, so there was a very good chance that Nanette was right. Not that any of us would tell Jerome that.
"So," he continued, "when I denied it, she demanded we step up and prove what superior Hellish minions we are."
"How?" asked Hugh, looking mildly interested. "With a soul pledge drive?"
"Don't be ridiculous," said Jerome.
"Then with what?" I asked.
Jerome gave us a tight-lipped smile. "With bowling."
It took me a moment to really comprehend that in thirty seconds, the conversation had gone from a deeply seriously mystery about my love life to bowling for demonic bragging rights. And yet, this wasn't a particularly unusual pattern in my world.
"And by 'we,' " added Jerome, "I mean you four." He nodded toward Peter, Cody, Hugh, and me.
"I'm sorry," I said. "Let me make sure I'm following this. You've signed us up for some sort of bowling league. One that you aren't even going to participate in. And this is somehow going to prove your employees' 'evilness' to the world."
"Don't be silly. I can't participate. Bowling teams only have four people." He didn't comment on the proving evilness part.
"Well, hey, I'll totally yield my spot to you," I said. "I'm not that great a bowler."
"You'd better become one." Jerome's voice grew cold. "All of you had, if you know what's good for you. Nanette will be impossible to live with at the next company meeting if you lot lose."
"Gee, Jerome. I love bowling," said Carter. "How come you never mentioned this to me before?"
Jerome and Carter held gazes for several heavy seconds. "Because, unless you're ready to take a fall for the team, you can't really compete with us."
A funny smile fell over Carter's face. His gray eyes glinted. "I see."
"I don't really like your use of 'us,' seeing as you've already written off any participation on your part," I pointed out to Jerome, imitating his earlier snide tone.
Peter sighed, looking rather woebegone. "Where on earth am I going to find tasteful bowling shoes?"
"What's our team name going to be?" asked Cody. That immediately degenerated into a conversation of truly terrible suggestions, such as Soulless in Seattle and Split Decision. After almost an hour, I couldn't handle any more.
"I think I'm going to go home," I said, standing up. I had kind of wanted dessert but was afraid I'd be drafted for beach volleyball and cricket if I stayed much longer. "I brought the wine. You guys don't really need me anymore."
"When you get home, tell my wayward offspring that I need him to coach you guys," said Jerome.
"By 'home,' I actually meant Seth's," I said. "But if I see Roman, I'll let him know you've found a good use for his formidable cosmic powers." Roman - Jerome's half-human son and my roommate - actually was a pretty good bowler, but I didn't want to encourage Jerome.
"Wait!" Peter sprang up after me. "You have to draw for Secret Santas first."
"Oh, come on - "
"No complaining," he argued. He hurried to the kitchen and returned with a ceramic cookie jar shaped like a snowman. He thrust it toward me. "Draw. Whatever name you get is who you're buying for, so don't try to get out of it."
I drew a piece of paper and opened it up. Georgina.
"I can't - "
Peter held up a hand to silence me. "You drew the name. That's who you've got. No arguments."
His stern look stopped me from any more protests. "Well," I pointed out pragmatically, "at least I have a few ideas."
To his credit, Peter sent me home with some chocolate fondue sauce and a Tupperware bowl filled with fruit and marshmallows. Hugh and Cody were running forward with the bowling team plan, trying to come up with a practice schedule. Jerome and Carter said little and instead kept watching each other in a speculative, knowing way that was typical of them. It was hard to read much on their faces, but for once, Jerome gave off the vibe of having the upper hand.