"That," he told Roger exuberantly, "is how a bird in the hand gets up before the early worm."
"That doesn't make any sense," said Roger.
Carter pointed at the scoreboard. "Neither does that, but there you have it."
Nanette's cool composure had vanished. I don't know if beating Jerome meant that much to her or if people in Portland just took bowling really seriously, but she immediately demanded a five-minute break. We watched as she pulled her team to the far side of the alley and gave them a talk. Judging from her wild hand motions and occasional expletives, it didn't sound like a very heartening talk. I glanced over at Jerome, who still kind of seemed to be in disbelief.
"Any words of wisdom for us, boss?" I asked.
He considered. "Yes. Don't lose."
Cody was already clinging to Peter's arm. "You have to come through for us here. We barely beat them just now, and you know she's putting the fear of God in them. That alone is going to give them some improvement. If you can just . . . I don't know. Get fewer splits. Do something. We can win this, but we need you."
Peter threw up his hands. "Don't you think I would if I could?"
When Nanette and friends returned, they showed us that they were adding a new strategy to their repertoire: catcalling. Every time one of the Unholy Rollers went up to play, we were serenaded with insults about everything from our appearance to our abilities to our bowling shirts. That last one really set Peter on edge, and Tiara picked up on it quickly.
"Did you pick that up at a thrift store? Oh, wait, they screen their items first. They'd never take a piece of shit like that."
"What's with that color? It's like a reject from a boy's baby shower."
"If your crappy shirts are going to say 'Unholy Rollers,' shouldn't you at least be rolling the ball? That was more of a caber toss."
Peter took it all in silence, but I could see him becoming increasingly agitated. Hugh grimaced and leaned toward me. "She's really not that funny. I'd expect better from a succubus."
"At least Peter isn't doing any worse," I said. "He's just getting splits in new and interesting ways."
"Which aren't going to save us, though," said Cody grimly.
It was true. We were staying even with them, but just barely. And when we were halfway through the game, it became clear we were slipping. Jerome was looking pissed off again, and Nanette's confidence had returned.
"Come on, you guys," said Carter, whom I hadn't expected to become a cheerleader. "You can do this. You're better than them."
It wasn't the angel's enthusiasm that changed the course of the game, however. It was when V finally spoke. Peter had just thrown his ball and amazingly knocked down four pins, which left behind a kind of three-way split I'd never even known was possible. We were all taken back.
"You are the worst vampire I've ever seen," said V, staring at the pins wide-eyed.
I don't know what it was about those words that succeeded where our encouragement and Tiara's bad fashion taunts had failed. But suddenly, Peter became a vampire. And not just any vampire. A vampire who could bowl.
From that point forward, everything he threw was a strike. And much like V, Peter didn't even deliberate it. He just walked up and threw, letting his vampire reflexes do the work. He quickly surpassed everyone on our team in skill, even Cody. Really, the only person who could match him was V.
But it was enough, and somehow, against all odds, we won the third game. Hugh, Cody, and I erupted into cheers and traded high fives with Carter. Peter remained much more stoic, however, and regarded the other team coolly. "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched," he told Roger. To Tiara, Peter said, "That shade of red makes you look like you have jaundice." He paused. "And like a whore."
To V, Peter said nothing.
Nanette and Jerome promptly got in an argument, most of which involved her making outlandish claims about how unfair it was to have two vampires on one team and how best of five would be the real determining factor. Jerome bantered back with her cheerfully. He was so smug about our victory, you would have thought he had thrown every ball himself. Seeing her consternation was just icing on the cake for him.
"Well," he said at one point, "we could do two more games, but your team seems terribly worn out. Perhaps once they have some time to recover mentally and physically, we can - "
Jerome stopped and cocked his head, like he was hearing music the rest of us couldn't. A strange look came over his face.
"Shit," he said.
"What?" asked Nanette. She seemed to realize something other than bowling had caught his attention. Near me, Carter had gone perfectly still.
"I have to go," said Jerome.
And he went. Just like that, the demon vanished. I glanced around quickly, but no humans seemed to have noticed, thanks largely to our part of the bowling alley being deserted. Still, teleporting out like that in a public place was pretty irregular behavior for a greater immortal. Even irreverent demons generally knew enough to be discreet among humans.
"Well," said Nanette. "I guess there's no such thing as good winners. Sportsmanship is a lost art."
I thought that was a stretch coming from her, particularly after her team's verbal tirade. In fact, they soon all degenerated into arguing amongst themselves, each one making a plea to Nanette about how the loss had been someone else's fault.
"Georgina," said Carter, drawing my attention back. The smile he'd worn at our victory was gone. "I think it's a good idea if you go home."
"Why?" I asked. "We should celebrate." For the first time since the fallout with Seth, I actually felt like having fun with my friends. "We need to call Roman too."
"Let's go to my place," said Peter. "I can make up a meze platter in no time."
"Fine, fine," said Carter, casting a glance over at Mei. She was still in her seat, trying to observe all conversations at once. "Let's just leave now. I'll teleport you when we're in the parking lot."
I tried to protest that, but Carter was too insistent on simply getting us all out of there. Minutes later, my teammates and I were headed out to the parking lot, still crowing over our victory and how Peter was the undisputed hero of the night.
I came to a halt. There, standing near my car, was Seth. Even in the harsh light of the parking lamps, everything about him seemed soft and inviting. The messy hair. The way he stood with his hands in his pockets. The Flock of Seagulls shirt that I could just make out underneath his flannel coat.
"What are you doing here?" I asked, taking a few steps forward. My friends had come to an uncertain stop behind me. They all knew about my rocky state of affairs with Seth and watched me nervously.
Seth glanced at my backup and then at me. "I . . . I wanted to talk to you."
"That's not what you said the last time we talked," I said. The harsh words were out before I could stop them. I knew I should jump on the chance to talk, on Seth's willingness to talk at last . . . but some hurt place in me responded first.
"I know," said Seth. "I probably don't deserve it. But . . . I've been thinking about a lot of things, and then there's all this weirdness going on I don't quite understand . . . like, my mom moving in with you? And do you know why all these toy ponies keep showing up on Terry's doorstep?"
"Why don't you come over to our place and have your heart-to-heart there," said Peter. "It'll go better with hummus and wine."
Staring at Seth, I felt my heart ache. This could be it, just like Carter had said at New Year's, about how Seth and I still managed to come back to each other. I swallowed, both scared and anxious. "Maybe I should meet you guys later," I said. "Seth and I can go somewhere and talk first."
"Georgina," said Carter anxiously, "you really need to - "
The car seemed to come out of nowhere, and, considering the way things worked in my world, it might literally have done so. All I knew is that one moment we were all standing around in the dark parking lot, and the next, a car was speeding toward us. Or rather, toward me. I couldn't discern any make or model and certainly not the driver. I probably wouldn't have known him or her anyway. All I saw were rapidly approaching headlights, heading toward where I stood alone, out in the open between my friends and Seth.