"No," I said. "It doesn't matter. Heal her. I don't care if he stays here forever, so long as it keeps her alive."
Carter nodded, and something shone in his eyes, something a little like pride . . . and sadness. "I thought you'd say that."
He knocked gently on Andrea's door before stepping back inside. "Sorry to bother you," he said. "But I forgot to ask what you wanted for Christmas."
Andrea laughed, eventually degenerating into coughing. Reaching for a glass of water beside her bed, she finally recovered herself. "That's nice of you, but I'm too old."
"Never," said Carter. "There must be something."
Andrea was still smiling, but it grew a little wistful. "There is something," she said. I wondered if she'd ask to be cured, which was obviously what Brandy had wanted as well. "I want . . . I want my girls to be happy. No matter what happens to me, I want them looked after and cared for."
Carter-as-Santa studied her with that soul-searching gaze, and it was as though something passed between them, something I wasn't part of. At long last, he said, "I swear, it will be so."
He walked over to her bedside and extended his hand to her. A chill ran down my spine as he did. I swear. Those weren't words an angel could say lightly. I'd thought what he'd said earlier to Brandy was powerful, but it was nothing compared to this. Tentatively, Andrea took Carter's hand. I saw nothing blatant, no blinding flash of light or anything like that. I didn't even feel anything with my immortal senses. But Andrea's face transformed, growing radiant and dreamy, as though she were seeing and hearing the most beautiful things in the world. When Carter released her hand, she smiled at him and closed her eyes, drifting into sleep.
"You healed her?" I asked, deciding not to mention the promise.
"Yes," he said. "She won't remember much of my visit."
"Probably just as - "
My cell phone rang, and I hurried out of the room to answer it before Andrea woke up. It was Roman.
"Hey," I said.
"Hey, are you still with the Mortensens?"
"Because I think I've figured out how to prove my theory," he said, voice stern and strained.
"I still don't even know what your theory is," I said.
"You will soon enough. Ask Seth how he feels about hypnosis."
Roman was impossible to live with after that. He refused to tell me any more details, only that Seth needed to undergo hypnosis and that more would be revealed once that happened.
"But don't you think I should know now?" I demanded, for what felt like the hundredth time the following day.
"I don't want to influence either of you," came the response. "Just in case I'm wrong."
"I thought you said you'd figured it out! You're saying now that there's a chance you might be wrong?"
"There's always a chance," he said pragmatically. "But I don't think I'm wrong."
And with that infuriating response, there was nothing I could do except wait and speculate. I couldn't figure out what exactly Roman planned on doing with hypnosis, but at least it seemed relatively safe. I wouldn't have put it past Roman to say, "Let's stage a trap for some demons and use Seth as bait." There were worse things than being hypnotized into clucking like a chicken, I supposed.
It took a number of days to get an answer. The delay came from finding a time when both Seth and Hugh were available. Despite his many formidable skills, hypnosis apparently wasn't in Roman's repertoire. It was, however, in Hugh's, which I found kind of surprising. When I asked him about it, he explained that he'd once been at a medical conference, during which participants were required to take a certain number of seminars. He'd chosen hypnosis because he thought it would be a blow-off class.
"It was actually harder than it seemed," he remarked. "I did some more follow-up on it after the conference. Dabbled here and there. Haven't put it to much use since then, aside from an ill-fated date last year."
"Are you going to be able to do what Roman needs you to today?"
I nodded toward my living room, where Roman was pacing like a caged animal. We were all waiting on Seth to show up, and Roman kept obsessing over small details necessary to create "the perfect hypnotic environment." He was constantly adjusting the lighting and moving the recliner. Sometimes he'd put it in the center of the room. Other times, he'd drag it to the side, where there were more shadows. We'd given up on trying to advise him. He was too irritable and wound up.
Hugh frowned, watching Roman. "I don't know. What he asked me to do . . . well, it's pretty basic, as far as technique goes. It's what he wants me to do with it that's kind of wacky. I've read up on it a little this week, and honestly . . . I don't know if it's going to work."
I still didn't know what "it" was and had resigned myself to patience. Seth arrived shortly thereafter, mood bright and optimistic. Andrea's improvement after Carter's visit had been remarkable, and it was affecting everyone in the household. I crossed my fingers every day that Hell wouldn't send someone back to undo what Carter had done. Seth gave me a half hug and kissed me on the lips, a further sign of his good mood since he was usually so reserved in front of others.
"You missed a good time," he told me. He was wearing a Princess Bride shirt today. "I took Kendall and the twins Christmas shopping. They got Ian some used copies of The Metamorphosis and Candide."
"He's into those?" I asked. "I mean, they're great books, but I just never thought of them as his thing."
"Well, they aren't mainstream best sellers - like some people's sellout books - so he's into the elitist appeal. He likes to go to coffee shops - obscure ones that you've never been to, naturally - and pretend to read counterculture literature. He'll be glad to have the new material."
Seth's amusement faded as he took in the living room, with all its drawn shades and Roman carefully arranging the recliner (again). Noticing our attention, Roman paused and glanced between the three of us. "I wasn't sure what background noise would work best, so I loaded a few different things onto my iPod. I've got ocean waves, wind chimes, and white noise."
Hugh shrugged. "Makes no difference to me. I'm not the one being hypnotized."
"I'm still not sure I can be hypnotized," said Seth. "But if it doesn't matter . . . hmm, are there seagulls with the ocean waves?"
"Yes," said Roman.
"Then let's go white noise."
Roman obligingly started it up, filling the room with what sounded more like faulty radio reception than soothing neutral sounds. "Maybe you should keep it at a low volume," I suggested delicately. "You know, you don't want it to be so soothing that Seth falls asleep."
Roman looked dubious, but at a nod from Seth, the volume decreased. I might not understand how hypnotizing Seth was going to play into Hell's greater plans, but so long as Roman believed it was necessary, Seth got to call the shots. Seth gave me a quick hand squeeze and a smile that was meant to be reassuring. He didn't like immortal affairs but had accepted this crazy venture for me. Following Roman's direction, Seth settled himself into the recliner and eased it back. Hugh pulled up a stool near Seth, but Roman and I sat on the periphery of the living room. Hypnosis required a minimum of distractions, which we clearly were. I'd even had to lock the cats up in my bedroom earlier, to make sure Aubrey and Godiva didn't decide to jump on Seth's lap mid-session.
"Okay," said Hugh, after clearing his throat. "Are you ready?" He took out a small notepad, filled with his illegible writing. It was the most low-tech thing I'd seen him use in a while.
"Ready as I'll ever be," said Seth.
Hugh glanced at Roman and me briefly, perhaps in case we had a last-minute change of heart, and then returned to the notepad. "Okay, close your eyes and take a deep breath. . . ."
I was familiar with some of the basics of hypnosis, and the exercises that Hugh began with were pretty standard. Although Seth had been joking, I too honestly wondered if he could be hypnotized. Part of his nature as a writer was to focus on all the details of the world, making it difficult to hone in on one thing sometimes. Of course, he could also show single-mindedness for his work, and that was the attribute that soon came out. After a few minutes of guided breathing, it became clear that Seth was definitely growing more and more relaxed. I almost thought he'd actually fallen asleep, until Hugh began asking him questions. Seth responded, eyes closed, voice perfectly steady.