"Thetis," he repeated, studying my face and whatever crazy expression was on it. "Come on. You're stronger than this."
He sounded sad and sympathetic, yet stern and parental too. His words snapped me out of my emotional vortex, suddenly making me feel, well, inadequate compared to him.
Terry walked back into the living room, looking rightfully startled to see me on top of his brother. "Do you guys need to go to bed too?"
Seth and I exchanged bitter, amused smiles. "If only," I said.
Once everything was cleaned up, Seth and I left to find a very late dinner. We stayed quiet, neither of us bringing up what had happened earlier. I think he knew I was taking it harder than he had and wanted to say something to cheer me up. But nothing apparently came to mind, so silence reigned until we returned to Terry's house to get our respective cars.
"Georgina," he said suddenly, hesitantly, as we stood by my car. "I have to know something."
I looked at him wearily, not liking the seriousness in his voice. I really didn't want to deal with any more weighty issues tonight. I sighed. "What?"
He studied me a moment, apparently assessing my emotional state. "So... areyou wearing any underwear now?"
I blinked in astonishment, taken aback. Then I saw how hard he fought to keep a straight expression. It was too funny. Seth was trying to make me feel better, very much in a goofy way I might have attempted. The tight coil of frustration inside of me unwound.
"Yes," I told him with a smile.
"Oh," he said, looking relieved to see me relax but disappointed by the answer.
"But you know what the real beauty of shape-shafting is?"
"I'm not anymore."
I wasn't prepared for Dana to answer Bastien's door the next day.
Oh my God, I thought. He finally slept with her.
The truth turned out to be far less exciting. Bastien - as Mitch - was covered up to his elbows in flour, his hands busily kneading a medium-sized lump of dough.
"Hey Tabby Cat," he said upon seeing me and my startled expression. "Dana's teaching me to bake bread."
"Wow," I said. Really, there was no other way to respond to a statement like that.
I had personally seen Bastien make bread in far more primitive conditions, but he apparently believed the old teacher-student routine was going to pave the way to Dana's bed for him now. It did have its merits, of course. Human nature liked showing superiority in areas of expertise, and a teaching relationship provided lots of alone time together. I suspected that even with that tactic, Dana might still be out of reach, but hey, maybe it was worth a shot. The fact that she actually made time for this struck me as odd. I figured she'd be too busy bombing abortion clinics and handing out school uniforms.
Speaking of alone time, I worried that I'd blundered into some meaningful opportunity for the incubus. I met his eyes.
"I can come back later if it's a bad time," I told him.
"No, no. Dana's got to go to a meeting soon. You can keep me company once this baby's in the oven."
His tone was genuine. He'd probably already exhausted efforts to get her to stay.
Uneasy in her presence, I sat on one of the stools by the counter and sipped the white-chocolate mocha I'd picked up on my way over. Dana sat down beside me. I resisted the urge to move away. Glancing at his kitchen table, I saw stacks of CPFV pamphlets and brochures.
"Why the interest in cooking?" I asked blandly when no one said anything.
"A bachelor can't live on fast food and frozen dinners forever, huh?" He turned up the dial on his smile. "And hey, I'm always open to new experiences. Next time she's going to teach me to make creme brulee."
I grunted. "You learn to makecreme brulee, and I might have to move in."
Dana turned to me, elegantly crossing her legs, showing that oh-so-wholesome slip obtained during the infamous shopping trip. I'd given up on slips a while ago. They just delayed the main event. "I could show you too."
Hell no. I'd gotten roped into yard work by pursuing a similar vein of conversation with Jody. No more domestic vices for me. Besides, I knew Bastien wouldn't welcome my presence.
"Thanks, but I'll just leave it to Mitch. He's the brilliant one in this family anyway."
Bastien gave the bread a final pat. "Okay, now what?"
"Now we put it in the pan."
She walked over to show him. As she did, he leaned in extra close, supposedly to get a better look. He even reached out his hand to brush hers, following her motions as they transferred the bread. Perhaps it would have been polite to look away, but there was nothing overtly romantic going on, and besides, I felt a professional interest in the matter. Histechniquewas good, I had to admit. Very subtle. Nothing that could be misconstrued as more than a polite accident. Yet, I saw Dana - just as subtly - stiffen and step away once the bread was in its pan.
"Now you just let it rise," she said, in a somewhat cooler tone. "Then it goes in the oven."
Interesting. She hadn't liked Bastien's proximity. That didn't bode well for him. I didn't think he noticed, however.
I would have expected her to leave, but she sat down next to me again. I could never think of anything interesting to say around her; she unnerved me too much. So I let the two of them talk, answering only when spoken to and otherwise letting Bastien run the show. He positively glowed. Dana tried to draw me in a number of times, again asking me things about my life I really didn't want to answer.
When she finally rose to go, she commented, "I'm off to a board meeting to plan our upcoming rally against g*y marriage. You two should join us when it happens."
"Absolutely," said Bastien, who probably would have agreed to an anti-incubus rally at this point.
She glanced over at me. My tongue suddenly felt thick, words again eluding me.
"Are you for g*y marriage?" she asked with surprise. "I thought when we talked about this at the mall, you had implied you were more in favor of helping them see the error of their ways."
Christ. Had we discussed this on the mall trip? I couldn't remember. The only thing I recalled clearly was the lingerie debacle.
I wanted to argue right then that I didn't think homosexuality was a "choice" for all people, nor did I believe there should be laws about who people loved. Fortunately, my control switch was fully operational. That, combined with Bastien's heavy gaze, made me redirect my answer and evade the question. "I'd love to go to the rally," I said flatly. "It'll depend on my schedule."
She smiled thinly, made a few parting remarks, and then left.
I exhaled. "Sorry about that, Bas. I nearly choked up on you."
"Not a problem. You recovered. Besides, I think things are turning around. I thought of it the last time she and Jody were over. This cooking thing is going to be what does it." He peered into the oven at his now-baking bread before sitting at the kitchen table happily. "Can't you see it? We'll be like, I don't know, baking a cake together, and I'll say, 'Why Dana, you have chocolate frosting on your cheek.' Then she'll say, 'Will you get it off for me?' Then I will, only I'll lick it off - "
"Okay, just stop now, please. I get the picture. I really don't want to hear about you two rolling around in cake batter."
"You'll have to once it's on the evening news."
I smiled, relieved to see him so cheered up after our last encounter. I couldn't bring myself to tell him I didn't think the cooking lessons were making Dana quite as hot and heavy as he would have liked. If we were going to save Bastien from demonic wrath, I believed we needed a better understanding of what - if anything - turned that woman on. And I had the distasteful feeling that I would be a better agent for that particular piece of reconnaissance than he would be. One more thing to add to my list.
"So what's new with you?"
"Oh, the usual. Another awkward physical encounter with Seth. Not nearly as big a deal as the last one, but still."
Bastien shrugged. "Alas for mortal weakness."
Dana left my mind as my own personal relations came to the forefront. "That's the thing. Everyone's been going on and on about how he wouldn't be able to handle our relationship, but it's not his weakness that's the problem. It's me. I'm the faulty piece here. Seth's done exactly what he's supposed to. He handles every horrible thing I tell him about myself, and he never does anything to cross the sexual line. His one moment of weakness was when I initiated things. He's perfect."