"Where are you going?" asked Maddie. "Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, yeah," I said brusquely. "Long story."
I beckoned Maddie and Doug to the clipboard, explaining again how I was pretty sure the store would be fine without my labor, so long as they could cover the tasks I did as manager. We sketched out a brief list of my responsibilities, like payroll and inventory, and began divvying them up.
Doug tapped the list. "I've done all these before, at one time or another. They're no problem. I'll take the first half." He elbowed his sister. "What about you? You gonna take the rest and pull your share here?"
Maddie pursed her lips. She was immensely talented but suffered from bouts of insecurity, which I'd repeatedly told her was ridiculous. She'd improved a lot over the months-again, thanks to me-but still faltered. "I didn't realize you did so much. I hope I can learn it all."
"Stop playing coy. I'll teach you," said Doug. "You'll be as good as Kincaid in no time."
"Yeah," I said dryly. "We're practically interchangeable anyway." Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Seth shift uncomfortably.
"The whole thing seems kind of sketchy, though," remarked Doug, tilting his head so that his black hair fell away from his face. "You're going to be gone, but you're not sure when or how long? I thought you were the reliable one around here."
"It's...family stuff," I told them. "Just gotta be dealt with. Besides, now you can have a chance to be responsible. You should be thanking me, Doug." He stuck his tongue out at me.
"Is Warren going to be okay with it?" asked Maddie, still fretting on my behalf.
"Let me deal with Warren," I assured her.
Doug scoffed at that, but Maddie didn't catch on. Warren, the store's marginally moral owner, had been a longtime sex buddy of mine. He gave me about as much energy as Dante, but he was convenient and suited my mood lately. I'd stopped our tryst while dating Seth but had since returned to old habits. Doug had known about my affair with Warren then and now but was tactful enough to leave me to my own choices, aside from the occasional bit of eye rolling. I suspected Seth knew what was going on too, but I didn't care. Warren wasn't going to give me any grief about taking time off. I was too good at what I did, both at work and in the bedroom.
We shuffled one shift where I was supposed to have closed, and then I tossed the clipboard back on its pile, suddenly needing to get out of there as soon as possible. "Alright. Thanks, team. I'll leave you to your work."
"Off to hit the town?" asked Doug, still amused. "I can join you in about a half-hour. I know a killer party."
I shook my head. "Already hit the town. I'm heading home."
"Loser," he called after me.
Maddie wished me well with my mysterious time off, and then I left them, walking through the store and exchanging greetings with my other co-workers as they scurried around with their closing tasks. I'd nearly made it to the door when I heard someone call my name. I turned and saw Casey hurrying toward me. She was twenty or so and went to the University of Washington. She'd worked here almost the entire time she'd been in college and was one of our best employees. So, I stopped and forced a smile, my eyes straying longingly toward the door.
"Hey, what's up?"
She grinned, dark eyes sparkling. "I wanted to know if you were going to go to my party next weekend," she said. "You never answered the e-mail."
I didn't remember any e-mail, but then, I'd been pretty trigger-happy with the delete key lately. "I didn't get it," I lied. "What's going on?"
"It's my graduation party. This Sunday."
I frowned. "It's April."
"I'm graduating early. I got all my credits finished up, so I don't have to do spring quarter. Pretty cool, huh?"
"Whoa," I said, actually impressed. "That is cool. Math, right?"
"Math and Latvian."
"Why on earth-never mind." Now was not the time to pursue why someone of Filipino heritage was studying Baltic languages. "I wish I could go, but I'm leaving town tomorrow for some family stuff and don't know when I'll be back. I'm really sorry."
Casey's face fell a little, but she told me she understood. And like Maddie, she wished me well and hoped my "family" business would be taken care of easily. That made two of us. She left me and went to finish her closing tasks.
As soon as I cleared the store's door and was outdoors, I stopped and exhaled. Breezy night air washed over me. Being in Seth's presence was smothering. It stirred up too much in me. Even while talking business and numbers with Doug and Maddie, most of my attention had been on Seth-exactly how far away he stood from me, the way he smelled, the way his messy hair stuck up today. Everything else had been background noise compared to him.
Reaching into my purse with shaking hands, I pulled out my cigarettes, desperately needing one for the walk home. I'd smoked for a century or so and stopped ten years ago, something I'd been very proud of, even though I was immune to the effects. Stress had driven me to pick up the habit again. I felt a little bad about subjecting others to secondhand smoke, but honestly, smoking was the least of my problems right now.
"Fuck." I flicked the switch on my lighter and got nothing. Three more flicks produced similar results. Holding the lighter up to my ear, I shook it. Nothing. It was out of fluid. "Fuck," I repeated. I only lived a few blocks away, but somehow, that walk was now going to be agony.
Suddenly, I heard what sounded like a boot scuff around the corner of the building. Frowning, I took a few steps forward, wondering if anyone was there. This area was pretty safe, but Lower Queen Anne still had its share of vagrants. Yet, when I glanced around the corner, there was no one there.
There was, however, a pack of matches lying on the ground.
Kneeling down, I picked the book up and examined them. Mark's Mad Martini Bar. I'd been there a long time ago. It was in Upper Queen Anne, not too far away if you didn't mind trekking up the hill. It wasn't unreasonable that a pack of their matches would find their way here. What was weird was that the matches showed up right when I needed them.
Behind me, I heard the store's door open. "Georgina?"
I rose and turned sharply around. Seth.
"Hey," I said, hoping for blandness. The smothering feeling returned.
Light from inside the store lit up his features in the twilight, and I ate up every line and angle of his face. His eyes looked dark in the dimness, but in full light, they were brown infused with amber. He stuffed his hands into his pockets, and his gaze wouldn't meet mine. It was painfully reminiscent of how he'd been when we first met, too shy to look directly at me.
"I wanted to see if you were okay," he said after several awkward moments.
I turned the matches over in my hand a couple of times and then placed them in my purse's outer pocket. "I'm fine," I said, keeping my voice cool and distant.
"It's just..." He relaxed slightly and gave a small, rueful laugh. "When you're vague about your activities and mention 'family,' it usually means immortal business. And immortal business always means trouble."
I started to smile, then immediately squelched it. "Yeah, it does, and believe me, it's a great one this time." Even after everything that had gone down between us, there was such a comfort and familiarity with him that I immediately wanted to launch in and recap the story for him. I could already see us both laughing at the idea of Canadian Satanists. I could perfectly picture the way Seth would shake his head in exasperation. But it wasn't to be. I was too hurt and too proud to even allow him friendship, so I just shrugged and said, "But it'll work out. It always does."
"Yeah...but usually not without a lot of hassle. I'm just worried about you, that's all."
"You don't have to be." Not anymore . "I'm not in any danger. Mostly just annoyed."
He opened his mouth to speak, and I knew the gesture. He wanted to argue that there was still cause for concern-but times had changed. He swallowed and let the comment go. More silence fell. I knew I should leave, but somehow, I couldn't make myself do it. He apparently couldn't either. "You...you look really great tonight," he said at last, still fumbling for conversation.
There was a catch in his voice. He knew my looks tonight had to do with more than just my body and outfit. The energy I'd stolen from sleeping with the therapist wreathed me. Life and its power were irresistible to all creatures, mortal and immortal alike. Immortals could literally see that life glowing around me. To mortals, I simply looked beautiful. Unearthly. Perfect.