"No," I agreed, voice cold. "He's not." I stood up and backed away from Dante, who was still sitting on the floor.
He looked up and realized what I was doing. The miserable face turned angry. "Leaving so soon?"
"Well. Thanks for stopping by. And thanks for proving me right."
He threw his hands in the air. "This. I told you you'd hate me."
"I don't - " I stopped. I did hate him. I couldn't help it, not after seeing how much he and his sister had loved each other. Not after realizing how much this must have hurt Erik. "Dante...what you did..."
"Was a mistake. One I would take back if I could. One mistake to damn me forever. Just like your angel friend. Just like you."
"No," I said. "It's not the same. Yasmine fell because of love."
"She fell because of selfishness," he argued. "But I won't challenge that point. Tell me about you. Did you fall because of love?"
I didn't say anything. I'd fallen because of lust. I'd cheated on my husband because I was hurt and lonely and bored and...well, because I could.
Dante regarded me sharply. "You see? I get it. You f**ked up too. I understand you - you're not going to find too many people who do. I bet your boyfriend doesn't."
"He accepts me."
"But does he understand? Have you ever told him in painstaking detail what you did?"
"No, but it doesn't matter."
Dante stood up and approached me. "It does matter! Being with him is a joke. It can't work. I'm not saying you have some great romantic future with me either, but at the very least, you should stick with people who know where you've come from."
"Right. Hanging out with you means I'd just drink and hate life."
"Seth makes me hope for better things. Makes me want to be better."
"But there's no point!" exclaimed Dante. "Why don't you get that? Things can't change for you. Even your own f**king palms say so."
"No...Nyx said...Nyx said the dream could come true. The man in the dream - "
" - was her scamming you. You would have fallen for it, too, if your angel hadn't fallen first."
I clenched my teeth. "Her dreams are true. Seth and I - "
" - are going to get married? Run off into the sunset? Have babies? Succubus! Wake up!" Dante was shouting, his face inches from mine. "It can't happen. Not for you. Maybe it can for him - but not with you. Every day you spend with him just ensures his life is going to be as empty and meaningless as yours."
"That's not true!" I screamed. "We're happy. We're going to be happy together, and I don't care if you don't believe me.
I'm never going to see or speak to you again. I know why Erik hates you, and I hate you too." I kicked the door open. "You deserve to burn in Hell."
I left him, but I still couldn't make myself go home. With nothing else to do, I simply found a twenty-four-hour diner and drank coffee, pointedly ignoring anyone who talked to me. I watched the sun come up over the Olympic Mountains and finally went to work when the bookstore opened. I helped out with the last-minute Christmas rush, doing mindless and mechanical tasks. We were closing early that day, and everyone was finishing up their shopping. It was hectic and crazy, but it gave my zombie-like body something to do.
When we closed, it was nearly time for me to take Maddie to the airport. She needed a few more Christmas purchases herself and asked if I'd swing downtown with her. After witnessing the death of an angel, shopping seemed like the most trivial thing in the world. Still...I had nothing else to do, so I agreed. I probably would have agreed to anything.
Downtown Seattle was decked out in its Christmas finery, with lights and wreaths strung along the shopping nexus that centered around Fourth Avenue. At four in the afternoon, it was already dark outside. Rain pounded down on the pavement, the kind of torrential downpour most people believed we had year-round. Really, it only rained in the winter, and that was usually a drizzly type. This heavy stuff was a rare event, as though perhaps the heavens mourned Joel's passing.
Through a window, I watched the rain and pedestrians fighting with umbrellas while Maddie searched in Banana Republic for something for her sister. I'd half-heartedly looked for a present for Seth, but my motivation eventually faded, and anyway, there was no way to compete with the ring. I still wore it around my neck. It felt heavy today.
Along with my grief over what had happened to Yasmine, I still kept thinking about Nyx. In particular, I kept thinking about what she'd said to me. The man in the dream. Who was the man in the dream? The question consumed me, as futile as it was. I kept repeating Dante's words, trying to tell myself it didn't matter - that the whole thing had been a hoax. But that dark silhouette still haunted my mind's eye, and some part of me believed that if I knew his identity, then maybe it could all be real.
I turned from the rainy street and saw Vincent standing in front of me. Beyond him, a preoccupied Maddie flipped through a rack of cardigans. I'd thought he looked grief-stricken in my apartment, but that was nothing compared to what I saw now. His face was pinched and pale. His eyes were glassy and red, but whether from crying or lack of sleep, I couldn't say. Probably both.
He handed me my apartment key. "Just wanted to give this back."
I took it. "You didn't need to find me for that. You could have left it."
"Yeah." He stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked at the ground. "I guess I just...wanted to talk to someone."
"Have you, um, seen Yasmine?"
He shook his head. "Nope. I don't know what happened to her. I mean, I know...she's off somewhere in Hell. Maybe they have orientation or something. I don't know. Whatever it is, it must be awful. And it's my fault."
"It's not," I said automatically. "It was her choice."
"She did it for me, though."
"It doesn't matter why. The point is that she did it willingly. It isn't your place to question the decisions she makes."
As the words left my mouth, I had a total holy shit moment. I was saying exactly what everyone had been telling me about Seth. I was saying exactly what Seth himself had been telling me for so long.
"I guess. I don't know." He sighed. "It's so f**king stupid too. All these years, we've been so cautious to stay at arm's length, so she wouldn't fall. We were so good - holding back from what we wanted. And then, we get the same results from a stupid moment of confusion and passion. It just happened so fast, you know? I acted to protect her, she acted to protect me..." He trailed off and looked as though he might weep. I kind of felt like that myself. It's a pretty big club, Dante had said.
"But...if she's already fallen...well. Maybe you guys can be together now."
Vincent shook his head and gave me a small smile that made him look sadder than when he hadn't been smiling. "I don't know. I don't even know if she'll meet with me now. Something tells me she won't want me to see her like that."
"And how do you feel?"
"I love her unconditionally...or, well, at least...I loved Yasmine the angel unconditionally. She's not that woman anymore. I mean, she may hate what's happened...she may be miserable. But eventually, she'll settle in. They always do. And then she'll be one of them. She won't be the same Yasmine, and I don't know if I can love her or if she can love me. Part of what made her such a great person was that she resisted that temptation...and I think she felt the same about me."
I forgot Vincent for a moment as my attention turned inward, toward my own situation. Again, it was like Seth and me, I realized. The continual tension in our arrangement was a pain, yet the morals it was based on were part of what attracted us. He might have said he was okay with us not having sex, but I think some part of him loved me because of my continual refusal to give in to that. Likewise, I loved his stead-fastness - not only in abstaining from me but from other lovers as well. It was part of what had made the fight so shocking. I didn't expect him to be weak.
And yet...even if we admired each other for our principles, was it worth it? And had that really been weakness on his part? Vincent and Yasmine had been together much longer than Seth and I had, torturing themselves in the same way. In the end, it had done them no good. Things had unfolded as they had.