Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Succubus Dreams CHAPTER 7
Ã¢â¬Å"Get out,Ã¢â¬ I said immediately. Yasmine and Vincent, finishing their breakfast at my table, looked up in surprise. Niphon gestured toward them. Ã¢â¬Å"I was invited in. I didn't think it'd be a problem.Ã¢â¬ Angel and human looked distinctly uncomfortable, and I could guess what had happened. Niphon had turned up, and they'd let him inside, not knowing about our animosity. They'd probably figured he was a partner in evil which, in the most technical of ways, he was. Vincent hastily stood up and took his empty plate to the sink. Yasmine followed. Ã¢â¬Å"Well,Ã¢â¬ said Vincent. Ã¢â¬Å"We should probably get going.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Yeah,Ã¢â¬ agreed Yasmine, grabbing her coat. Fools rushed in where angels feared to tread, apparently. Ã¢â¬Å"Great seeing you guys.Ã¢â¬ They left so fast that they might as well have teleported out. I fixed my attention back on Niphon. Ã¢â¬Å"Get out,Ã¢â¬ I repeated. He leaned back against my couch, draping his arms over the back of it. Ã¢â¬Å"Letha, Letha Ã¢â¬â Ã¢â¬Å" Ã¢â¬Å"And stop calling me that.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Whatever you like. And don't worry, I'll be out of your hair soon. I just wanted to give you a Tawny update.Ã¢â¬ Oh God. Tawny. Please, please let her have scored last night, I silently begged. Her attitude at the bar hadn't really inspired confidence, but maybe me leaving with Jude had set a good example. Ã¢â¬Å"She hasn't taken a victim yet.Ã¢â¬ Damn. Ã¢â¬Å"Alright, thanks,Ã¢â¬ I said, pointing at the door. Ã¢â¬Å"You can leave now. And next time, it's really okay if you call to give me an update. Preferably when you're in the taxi that's taking you to the airport so I don't ever have to fucking see you again.Ã¢â¬ He rose from the couch, giving me a wounded look. Ã¢â¬Å"Fine, fine. But there is one other thing I wanted to talk to you about.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"There is nothing at all I want to talk to you about.Ã¢â¬ I was on the verge of growling. Ã¢â¬Å"Oh, I'm not so sure about that.Ã¢â¬ His hand rested on the doorknob, but he showed no intention of actually leaving. Ã¢â¬Å"I think you'll be very interested. It's about your love life.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No! We are not talking about this.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Le Ã¢â¬â Georgina, I just want to help you,Ã¢â¬ he whined. Ã¢â¬Å"I think it's terrible that you two can't fully express your love.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"We. Are. Fine. And don't lean against the door. I don't want your hair to leave an oil stain.Ã¢â¬ Niphon straightened up and ran a solicitous hand over the back of his head. Ã¢â¬Å"Look, I get why you don't want to sleep with him. It's admirable. You want to protect his lifespan, not wipe him out, etc., etc. But what if that wasn't an issue? What if I made it so that you could have sex without the dire side effects?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Right. And you'd do that out of the kindness of your heart.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"WellÃ¢â¬ ¦Ã¢â¬ He shrugged and spread his hands wide. Ã¢â¬Å"There's always a price.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"It's not worth it. Not worth Seth selling his soul.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I could sweeten the deal. Give him a longer lifespanÃ¢â¬ ¦longer youthÃ¢â¬ ¦Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No. I swear to God, if you don't leave now, I'm calling Jerome.Ã¢â¬ That was a bluff, seeing as Jerome was out of town. Ã¢â¬Å"Like I said, just trying to help,Ã¢â¬ Niphon said. Ã¢â¬Å"Yeah, like you helped me?Ã¢â¬ I asked, not bothering to hide the sarcasm. Suddenly, the mocking, teasing look vanished. Niphon's face grew hard. Angry. Scary. Ã¢â¬Å"I did help you, Little Letha. You were no one. No one at all. Some poor fisherman's daughter in a shit, backwoods town. Some whore in a shit, backwoods town. You fucked up your life, and I fixed it for you. I made you who you are. Erased your problems. Saved your husband. Gave you eternal life and beauty. If anything, you owe me.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"It wasn't worth it,Ã¢â¬ I said, in a voice that matched his dark expression. Ã¢â¬Å"It wasn't worth it.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Wasn't it? Would you have rather watched your husband commit suicide? Would you rather have died an outcast and disgraced?Ã¢â¬ I didn't answer. I thought about the desperate look on my husband's face when he'd found out that I'd cheated on him. Even after all these centuries, that expression still haunted me. He'd been driven to such despair that he'd been on the verge of taking his own life. In selling my soul and becoming a succubus, I'd struck a bargain with Hell that made him and everyone else I knew forget me. My husband had lived and gone on with his life, forgetting I'd ever existed. Had it been worth it? Observing my silence, Niphon's face turned taunting once more. He opened the door. Ã¢â¬Å"Good-bye, Georgina. Let me know if you change your mind.Ã¢â¬ He left, and I stared at the door for a long time before finally forcing my feet to start moving. The Seth soul-selling offer held no temptation for me whatsoever. That didn't trouble me. But his other wordsÃ¢â¬ ¦the reminders of my pastÃ¢â¬ ¦ I sighed. I didn't want to deal with that, not with everything else going on in my life right now. And speaking of whichÃ¢â¬ ¦with two hours left until work, I decided to bite the bullet and again try to get more information about my dreams. From Dante. His store looked as bleak as the last time I'd visited, but this time, he actually had a customer. She was a young woman, college-aged maybe, with layered brown hair and a gray sweatshirt. Seeing her, I started to step back outside, but he waved me in. Ã¢â¬Å"No, no, it's okay. You can wait here.Ã¢â¬ Dante glanced at the girl. Both of them sat at the shabby, velvet-covered table. Ã¢â¬Å"You don't mind, do you?Ã¢â¬ She barely spared me a glance. Ã¢â¬Å"No! No! Hurry, go on. I want to hear more about the man.Ã¢â¬ Dante produced a dazzling grin that seemed a bit fake to me but which I suspected was actually very effective on her. Taking a step closer, I realized he was reading her Tarot cards. Several already lay on the table. He flipped another over. Ã¢â¬Å"Ah, the Hierophant.Ã¢â¬ His voice held a mysterious, knowing note. Ã¢â¬Å"What's that mean?Ã¢â¬ she squealed. Ã¢â¬Å"You don't know? You don't know anything about these?Ã¢â¬ She shook her head. Ã¢â¬Å"Nothing.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Well, the Hierophant is a great love card. It represents a romantic man, someone good-looking and charming who loves giving gifts and doing small gestures. You know the kind.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I don't, actually,Ã¢â¬ she said wistfully. Ã¢â¬Å"All my boyfriends have been jerks.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Well, that's going to change,Ã¢â¬ he promised. I knew quite a bit about Tarot cards, actually. The Hierophant represented tradition, wisdom, and organized religion. He wasn't exactly a romantic figure, particularly considering he was usually depicted as a priest. Ã¢â¬Å"Why is he dressed so weird?Ã¢â¬ asked the girl. Ã¢â¬Å"He looks like he's in robes.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"It's not weird,Ã¢â¬ Dante said. Ã¢â¬Å"It's opulent. Remember, the Tarot is an ancient system. A guy dressed like this represented the height of fashion back in the old days. You know, a real designer label kind of guy.Ã¢â¬ I caught Dante's gaze and rolled my eyes. He maintained his poker face and flipped the next card. Ã¢â¬Å"Things are looking good,Ã¢â¬ he declared. Ã¢â¬Å"The Tower.Ã¢â¬ The Tower was pretty much the worst card in the deck. Ã¢â¬Å"This shows you guys have a promising future.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Why is it on fire?Ã¢â¬ she asked. Ã¢â¬Å"And why are people falling out of the windows?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"It's all symbolic,Ã¢â¬ he said hastily. Ã¢â¬Å"And although things look really good for when you meet this guy, it means you have to be cautious and read the signs around you.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Oh, wow,Ã¢â¬ she said. Ã¢â¬Å"I hope I can.Ã¢â¬ Dante gathered up the cards and stacked them neatly. Ã¢â¬Å"Well, I can help if you want. I could give you a package set of readings at a discount. That way, you'll have a guide as you go along. You'll be prepared for when you meet him.Ã¢â¬ I sincerely doubted she was ever going to meet this mythical guy. Ã¢â¬Å"How much?Ã¢â¬ she asked hesitantly. Ã¢â¬Å"Hmm, let's see.Ã¢â¬ Dante turned speculative. Ã¢â¬Å"Well, they're normally fifty dollars. Usually, I give a five-dollar discount for packagesÃ¢â¬ ¦but, hell. I really want to see this work. I'm a romantic myself, you know? It's a stretch, but I'll do a set of six for forty dollars each. You can buy them now and then come in whenever you want to claim them.Ã¢â¬ The girl deliberated, and I wanted to yell at her that it was a scam. But I needed Dante's advice and didn't want to get on his bad side. Not that I was necessarily on his good side right now. Ã¢â¬Å"I don't want to pressure you,Ã¢â¬ he told her gently. Ã¢â¬Å"So, please. Don't feel obligated. Just do whatever your heart tells you to do. I mean, if the cards have told us anything, it's that you have to protect your heart now as you enter this important stage of your life.Ã¢â¬ That sold her. Ã¢â¬Å"Okay. I'll do it.Ã¢â¬ I watched in disbelief as the two of them walked to his register. She handed over two-hundred-forty dollars Ã¢â¬â plus tax Ã¢â¬â and he gave her a Tarot punch card, not unlike what you'd get at a coffee or sandwich shop. Ã¢â¬Å"You should be ashamed of yourself,Ã¢â¬ I told him when she was gone. Ã¢â¬Å"Succubus. Nice to see you too.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"That wasn't a romance reading.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Nope,Ã¢â¬ he agreed, coming over to stand beside me. Ã¢â¬Å"It actually suggested she'd soon be having a sex change and joining a suicide cult.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"But you told her it was about love.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"She's twenty years old. Love's all they want to hear about at that age.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You're going to Hell.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I could have told you that. In fact, I did tell you that last time, didn't I? Now. What can I do for you? You change your mind about the sex?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No. Of course not.Ã¢â¬ He looked offended. Ã¢â¬Å"Of course not? What's with the attitude? I'm not that unappealing.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No,Ã¢â¬ I agreed. He looked like he still hadn't shaved in a couple days, and there was something very sexy about that and the way his indigo T-shirt fit him. I hadn't realized before what nice ab muscles he had. Probably the lack of business around here gave him lots of time to work out. Ã¢â¬Å"But that's not why I'm here. And honestly, if this behavior is just the tip of the iceberg, I'm thinking your soul isn't going to be worth my time anyway.Ã¢â¬ He threw his hands in the air. Ã¢â¬Å"She comes and insults me, then expects help. So what is it you want? Your dishwasher finally break?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No, but I had the dream again. And there was more.Ã¢â¬ I recapped it, and he listened, face unreadable. Ã¢â¬Å"You sure you don't want a new dishwasher?Ã¢â¬ he asked dubiously. Ã¢â¬Å"No!Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"What about kids?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"What about them?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You want them?Ã¢â¬ I fell silent, and despite his lopsided smile, I could see Dante scrutinizing me. He might be a con artist, but he was smart. The best ones always are. People like him make their living reading people and exploiting little things Ã¢â¬â like that girl's longing for romance. Ã¢â¬Å"It doesn't matter,Ã¢â¬ I said. Ã¢â¬Å"You know that. I can't have them.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I didn't ask that, succubus. I asked if you wanted them.Ã¢â¬ I averted my eyes, studying the crystal ball. With the way the sunlight hit it, I suspected it was actually plastic. Ã¢â¬Å"Sure. I did even when I was mortal. If I could have kids now, I would.Ã¢â¬ He nodded, and for the first time, I got the impression he might almost be taking me seriously. Almost. Ã¢â¬Å"And let me guess. You woke up without energy.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Yes, and I'd gotten a victim the night before. Just like last time.Ã¢â¬ His face turned speculative. Ã¢â¬Å"Interesting. It only happens when you're charged up.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"What do you think it means?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Dunno. Might not mean anything.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"It has to! I'm losing energy for no reason at all.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You're stressed,Ã¢â¬ he argued. Ã¢â¬Å"And you're, like, one of the most uptight people I've ever met Ã¢â¬â immortal or otherwise. You've spent centuries wishing you could get knocked up. You have this celibate boyfriend thing going on. And you work for that demon, right? The one who looks like Matthew Broderick?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"John Cusack,Ã¢â¬ I corrected. Ã¢â¬Å"He looks like John Cusack.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Whatever. That's enough to tax anybody. Your dreams are manifestations of the woes in your life, coming out of your subconscious in vivid, energy-sucking ways.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You are so unhelpful. Your dream expertise is a scam Ã¢â¬â like everything else.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Nah. Not everything I do is a scam. I know dreams. I know spells. And I know what could help you.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"What?Ã¢â¬ He pointed to the counter. Ã¢â¬Å"You and me. Up there. Naked. Horizontal.Ã¢â¬ I groaned. Ã¢â¬Å"Wow, you really weren't lying. You are a romantic.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"A pragmatist. And an opportunist.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"A sleazy guy, treating me like a cheap whoreÃ¢â¬ ¦Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Fuck, I haven't been laid in months, and now this succubus shows up wanting my help. You'd try to bargain for sex too.Ã¢â¬ I eyed him warily. Ã¢â¬Å"Is that what this is about? I have to sleep with you to get help?Ã¢â¬ Dante shoved his hands in his pockets. Ã¢â¬Å"Nope. You'd be more fun if you were willing, I think. Besides, I have no other help to give.Ã¢â¬ Disappointed, I made motions to leave. Ã¢â¬Å"Okay. Thanks. Sort of.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You know what else might help?Ã¢â¬ he called after me. Ã¢â¬Å"If it involves sex Ã¢â¬â Ã¢â¬Å" Ã¢â¬Å"A vacation. At the very least, a massage. Basic stress reliever things.Ã¢â¬ Those were actually reasonable things, and I was pleasantly surprised to see his mind wasn't always in the gutter. Ã¢â¬Å"They can help,Ã¢â¬ I told him. Ã¢â¬Å"But I doubt a massage will fix the problems in my life.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Maybe. Maybe not. But if you want a free oneÃ¢â¬ ¦a naked free oneÃ¢â¬ ¦Ã¢â¬ I left. I'd already felt like my romance with Seth was some infinite loop tape reel. The rest of my life apparently was too. Have the same dream, go to Dante, get no help, go to work, and ruminate. Because that's exactly how my day was unfolding, just like before. I went through the motions of paperwork and customer service at Emerald City, all the while consumed by images of the little girl in the dream and the sweet fantasy of having a daughter. My heart ached to see her again, to see that smile. Everything at my job seemed so shallow and meaningless compared with her. When work ended, I brought Maddie back to my apartment to make good on my promise to get her a date. Ã¢â¬Å"You're going to sell me?Ã¢â¬ she exclaimed when I told her the plan. Ã¢â¬Å"It's an auction,Ã¢â¬ I said. Ã¢â¬Å"For a children's charity. You don't hate kids, do you?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Well, no, but Ã¢â¬â Ã¢â¬Å" Ã¢â¬Å"Then this'll be great. Here, try this on.Ã¢â¬ I tossed her a BCBG shopping bag. She eyed it warily. Ã¢â¬Å"Isn't that a place for teenagers?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"It's a place for anybody with style,Ã¢â¬ I assured her. She opened the bag and pulled out the knee-length dress I'd picked up for her the other day. It was silk chiffon with a dark pink geometric print. The empire waist had a slightly gathered top, and the V-neck had a bow that tied underneath it. Fluttery cap sleeves finished it off. Ã¢â¬Å"I can't wear this,Ã¢â¬ she said immediately. Ã¢â¬Å"Why? Because it'll look good?Ã¢â¬ She shot me a glare. Ã¢â¬Å"There's hardly anything there.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"What? There's plenty.Ã¢â¬ I owned lots of dresses that had Ã¢â¬Å"hardly anything there.Ã¢â¬ This was elegant and tasteful. Amish country compared to some of my clothing. Ã¢â¬Å"Try it on, and we'll see.Ã¢â¬ She did, reluctantly, and I could have crowed with delight when she stepped out of my bathroom. I'd totally nailed the size. It fit perfectly. Ã¢â¬Å"There isn't an extra inch here,Ã¢â¬ she fretted, pulling at the fabric around the waist. Ã¢â¬Å"Exactly.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Doesn't it make me look fat?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"It makes you look great. If it were spandex or something, there might be a problem, but this is light and drapey.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"The neckline's awfully low Ã¢â¬â Ã¢â¬Å" Ã¢â¬Å"Oh, be quiet,Ã¢â¬ I snapped. Ã¢â¬Å"And let's finish the rest of you.Ã¢â¬ I did her makeup and arranged her hair down for a change. It shone like black silk when brushed out, and I thought it was a shame she wore it in a haphazard ponytail so often. Besides, everyone knows that in the movies, shy girls always become beautiful by letting down their hair and taking off their glasses. Maddie already wore contacts, but the principle was still sound. I finally finished her off with half-heeled shoes I'd bought to match the dress. Higher ones would have looked better, but even I knew when not to press my luck. Satisfied with the results, we headed out to the auction. Ã¢â¬Å"You're like my fairy godmother,Ã¢â¬ she muttered as we walked into the hotel the event was being held at. Ã¢â¬Å"But I'm still a pumpkin.Ã¢â¬ I elbowed her. Ã¢â¬Å"How did you get so negative? You should start some angstful emo rock band to compete with Doug's.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Oh, yeah. That'd go over Ã¢â¬â hey, is that Seth?Ã¢â¬ We were cutting across the open room the auction would take place in, heading toward the volunteers' area. Lots of people had gathered, filling most of the round tables facing the stage. I followed her gesture to where Seth sat at one of the few tables that wasn't already full. Seeing us notice him, he held up his hand in greeting. Ã¢â¬Å"He wanted to come support you,Ã¢â¬ I told her. Actually, Seth had been appalled at me strong-arming Maddie into this and had attended mainly out of a perverse fascination at what he thought might end in disaster. But Maddie, not knowing his motives, was pleasantly surprised. She smiled, and I nearly swooned. Ã¢â¬Å"That,Ã¢â¬ I said. Ã¢â¬Å"That right there is what you need to do.Ã¢â¬ The smile dropped. Ã¢â¬Å"That what?Ã¢â¬ Hugh practically skipped over when he saw us. Ã¢â¬Å"I knew you didn't hate kids. I knew you'd cave and come help Ã¢â¬â Ã¢â¬Å" Ã¢â¬Å"Not me,Ã¢â¬ I said. Ã¢â¬Å"Maddie.Ã¢â¬ I rested a hand on her shoulder. Hugh's face turned perfectly blank. Ã¢â¬Å"Oh?Ã¢â¬ Just then, a tall brunette in a black satin evening dress strolled over. The Ã¢â¬Å"fucking fox,Ã¢â¬ presumably. She extended her hand. Ã¢â¬Å"Hello, I'm Deanna, the coordinator. You must be Hugh's friend?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Georgina,Ã¢â¬ I said, shaking. Ã¢â¬Å"But Maddie here is your volunteer. She's a journalist for an important women's magazine.Ã¢â¬ Deanna's eyes lit up. Ã¢â¬Å"Ah! We love celebrities. Let me take down your information.Ã¢â¬ She led Maddie away. As soon as they were gone, Hugh turned on me. Ã¢â¬Å"What the hell? I wanted Georgina, and you give me Georgy Girl.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You are such an asshole. That's a horrible thing to say.Ã¢â¬ He shrugged, eyes on Maddie. Ã¢â¬Å"I call 'em like I see 'em. She's huge.Ã¢â¬ My eyes were on Maddie too. She actually looked quite slim in the dress, but Hugh was one of those guys who liked bony types Ã¢â¬â so long as their chests were big enough. Ã¢â¬Å"You're the reason women have such horrible self-esteem issues. You tear them apart. Women, I mean. Not the issues.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Look, I'm sure she's not all bad,Ã¢â¬ he said. Ã¢â¬Å"She probably gives good head.Ã¢â¬ I rolled my eyes. Ã¢â¬Å"Flatterer. Why do you say that?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Fat girls always do. They have to. Only way they can get men.Ã¢â¬ I punched him in the arm. Hard. Ã¢â¬Å"Ow! Fuck, that hurt.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You're a jerk,Ã¢â¬ I told him. Ã¢â¬Å"Maddie's beautiful.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"She's okay,Ã¢â¬ he said, rubbing his injured arm. Ã¢â¬Å"And I can't exactly have just okay tonight Ã¢â¬â not with that liability already on deck.Ã¢â¬ He pointed over to where some of the other volunteers waited. Immediately, I found what he referred to. It was easy because Tawny towered over the other women by about a foot. Ã¢â¬Å"Holy Christ,Ã¢â¬ I said. Ã¢â¬Å"How did that happen?Ã¢â¬ He threw up his hands, looking miserable. Ã¢â¬Å"She latched on to the idea when you mentioned it at the bar.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I didn't even think she heard me,Ã¢â¬ I said apologetically. Hugh waved me toward the crowd. Ã¢â¬Å"Too late now. Go have a seat, Brutus, so this disaster can get under way. You've ruined the night. I don't know why you hate kids so much.Ã¢â¬ I gave him a parting glare and went off to find Seth. The vampires had joined him since I'd come in. Ã¢â¬Å"You guys here to get a date or a victim?Ã¢â¬ I asked. Ã¢â¬Å"Neither,Ã¢â¬ said Peter. Ã¢â¬Å"We're here to see the Tawny Show.Ã¢â¬ I sighed. Ã¢â¬Å"This is supposed to be a charity event, and people are treating it like a freak show. Hugh already accused me of ruining it by bringing Maddie.Ã¢â¬ Seth looked surprised. Ã¢â¬Å"Why? She looks great.Ã¢â¬ I pointed her out to Peter and Cody, who also concurred about her cuteness. Ã¢â¬Å"She'll be fine,Ã¢â¬ said Cody. Ã¢â¬Å"Tawny's going to be the one to watch. I haven't really been able to see what she's wearing. I hope it's up to her usual standards.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Maybe her Secret Santa will get her some nicer clothes,Ã¢â¬ said Peter. He glanced at me. Ã¢â¬Å"You bought for yours yet?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Huh?Ã¢â¬ Right. Carter. I'd completely forgotten. Buying something for that cynical angel hadn't exactly been at the top of my priority list. Ã¢â¬Å"I, um, have some ideas. Still thinking about it.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"What about a Christmas tree? You got one of those?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Um, haven't done that either.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I didn't know you wanted a Christmas tree,Ã¢â¬ said Seth. Ã¢â¬Å"Do you need help picking one out?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Well, I don Ã¢â¬â Ã¢â¬Å" The auction started, cutting me off. The auctioneer, Nick, was a young guy in his early thirties who probably had a second job doing minor modeling contracts that would never actually get him out of Seattle. He smiled non-stop and did a good job flirting with the women and making guy-jokes to the men. Bids flew fast and furious, and it was easy to get caught up in the excitement. Ã¢â¬Å"Next up,Ã¢â¬ said the auctioneer, reading from a card, Ã¢â¬Å"is Tawny Johnson.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Johnson?Ã¢â¬ asked Cody. Ã¢â¬Å"Kind of boring.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"She made up both her names,Ã¢â¬ I said. Succubi often did. Ã¢â¬Å"She probably didn't have any mental energy left after choosing the first one.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Ouch,Ã¢â¬ said Seth. Ã¢â¬Å"Who's being mean now?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You haven't met her,Ã¢â¬ I warned. Tawny pranced up, wearing seven-inch high-heeled shoes that appeared to be made out of stainless steel. They looked like medieval torture devices but matched her super-tight, silver lam?Ã ¦ hot pants and jacket. Ã¢â¬Å"She didn't disappoint,Ã¢â¬ said Cody, studying the outfit. Unsurprisingly, she stumbled the last couple of steps, and Nick reached out to steady her. Ã¢â¬Å"Careful there,Ã¢â¬ he said, flashing his brilliant white teeth. Ã¢â¬Å"Men are supposed to fall all over you.Ã¢â¬ It took her a moment to get the joke, and then she burst into small, high-pitched giggles. The noise grated on my nerves, but Nick seemed quite pleased to have someone appreciate his jokes. Ã¢â¬Å"Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself, Tawny,Ã¢â¬ he said. Ã¢â¬Å"It says here you're currently unemployed. Does that mean you're out looking for something right now?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Well, Nick, I'm out looking for someone right now Ã¢â¬â if you know what I mean.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Oh my God,Ã¢â¬ I said. Ã¢â¬Å"That was kind of funny,Ã¢â¬ Peter noted. Ã¢â¬Å"No, it wasn't.Ã¢â¬ Nick apparently agreed with Peter. He threw back his head and laughed. Ã¢â¬Å"Careful there, guysÃ¢â¬ ¦we got a dangerous one on our hands. Tell me, Tawny, what is it you're looking for in a man?Ã¢â¬ She pursed her red-lacquered lips in deep thought. Ã¢â¬Å"I'm looking for heart, Nick. Heart and soul. Those are the most important things.Ã¢â¬ There was a collective Ã¢â¬Å"awwÃ¢â¬ from the audience. Beside me, Peter said, Ã¢â¬Å"Okay, the soul thing really was funny. Only to us, of course, but still.Ã¢â¬ Tawny then winked at the crowd. Ã¢â¬Å"But stamina and a big checkbook can make up for that sometimes.Ã¢â¬ Nick waited for the audience's laughter to fade. Ã¢â¬Å"Okay, let's start the bidding at fifty Ã¢â¬â oh my God.Ã¢â¬ Tawny had taken off her jacket, revealing a zebra-print bandeau top underneath. Ã¢â¬ËTop' was a dubious term at best, though. When wrapped around her enormous bust, it looked more like a rubber band and really only served to cover her nipples. Bids exploded from the audience, much to the astonishment of my friends and me. More surprising still was when Nick the auctioneer actually joined in. Ã¢â¬Å"Folks, I know this is a bit unusualÃ¢â¬ ¦but, well, I just can't help myself. Three-hundred dollars.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Three-fifty!Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Four-hundred!Ã¢â¬ In the end, Nick was the one who ended up winning her, paying a startling five-fifty. Ã¢â¬Å"Well, I'll be damned,Ã¢â¬ said Peter. I would have made a joke about his comment if I wasn't so shocked. When I finally found my voice, it was to say, Ã¢â¬Å"WellÃ¢â¬ ¦this is a good thing, right? That guy looks like he'd sleep with her right now.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"And,Ã¢â¬ added Cody, Ã¢â¬Å"it was all for the kids.Ã¢â¬ Slowly, my astonishment faded into relief. This was an unexpected twist to the evening. The Tawny problem was fixed. Apparently, all we'd needed to do was essentially run an ad for her. She'd sleep with him, and Niphon would get off my back. One less thing for me to worry about Ã¢â¬â which was good, because I certainly had plenty of other things. Like Maddie. It was her turn next. She walked out, face grim and set for battle. She looked both terrified and terrifying. In spite of that hard countenance, I still saw a few interested faces in the audience. Ã¢â¬Å"Smile, smile,Ã¢â¬ I muttered to no one in particular. Ã¢â¬Å"Maddie Sato,Ã¢â¬ said Nick cheerily. Ã¢â¬Å"You write magazine articles. Anything I'd know?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Probably not,Ã¢â¬ she said, still wearing that grimace. Ã¢â¬Å"Not unless you read feminist publications.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Feminist,Ã¢â¬ he said, clearly amused. Ã¢â¬Å"Next you'll be telling us you hate men.Ã¢â¬ She gave him a blank look. Ã¢â¬Å"I only hate stupid men who don't actually understand what Ã¢â¬Ëfeminist' means.Ã¢â¬ He laughed. Ã¢â¬Å"You run into a lot of men like that?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"All the time.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Really?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Even as we speak, Nick.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Oh no she didn't,Ã¢â¬ said Peter. I groaned. It took Nick a full ten seconds to realize he had just been insulted. Then, for the first time that night, he stopped smiling. Turning to the crowd, he said flatly, Ã¢â¬Å"Okay, let's start the bidding at fifty.Ã¢â¬ Silence met him. The interested faces no longer looked so interested. I swallowed a scream. No, this couldn't be happening. I'd promised her a date. This would destroy her. After what seemed like an eternity, I heard a voice in the back of the room. Ã¢â¬Å"Fifty.Ã¢â¬ Relieved, I craned my head and looked. The guy who had bid was about fifty years old and looked exactly like this pedophile I'd once seen on a news special. Ã¢â¬Å"Fifty,Ã¢â¬ said Nick. Ã¢â¬Å"Do I hear seventy-five?Ã¢â¬ Silence. I turned to Seth. Ã¢â¬Å"Do something!Ã¢â¬ I hissed. He flinched. Ã¢â¬Å"What?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Going onceÃ¢â¬ ¦Ã¢â¬ I elbowed him, and his hand shot up. Ã¢â¬Å"Seventy-five.Ã¢â¬ There was a collective Ã¢â¬Å"ooh' in the room. Apparently no one, including Maddie, had expected a bidding war for the belligerent man-hater. Her eyes widened in surprise. Ã¢â¬Å"One hundred,Ã¢â¬ said the pedophile look-alike. Then, either to end this quickly or because he felt sorry for Maddie, Seth said, Ã¢â¬Å"Three hundred.Ã¢â¬ More sounds of astonishment followed. The other bidder couldn't compete; he must have spent all his money on bail. Ã¢â¬Å"Sold to the gentleman in the Welcome Back, Kotter T-shirt.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Nice,Ã¢â¬ said Cody, as Maddie exited the stage. I reached out and squeezed Seth's hand. Ã¢â¬Å"Thank you.Ã¢â¬ He gave me his half-smile. Ã¢â¬Å"Anything for the kids.Ã¢â¬ Nick flipped to his next card. Ã¢â¬Å"And now we haveÃ¢â¬ ¦Georgina Kincaid.Ã¢â¬ My head shot up. Across the room, I saw Hugh's smirking face. Ã¢â¬Å"Oh no he didn't,Ã¢â¬ I said through gritted teeth. Nick, puzzled, glanced toward where the other auctionees were. Ã¢â¬Å"Georgina Kincaid?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No avoiding it,Ã¢â¬ Peter told me. Ã¢â¬Å"Might as well go up there. Otherwise people'll think you hate kids.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"That joke is getting old,Ã¢â¬ I hissed. Vowing to slap Hugh later, I reluctantly rose from my chair. Upon seeing me, Nick turned on the supernova smile. Ã¢â¬Å"Ah, there she is. Fashionably late.Ã¢â¬ On the subject of fashion, I wished I'd worn something as nice as Maddie's dress. I might have just gotten tricked into this thing, but now I wished I could do it right. I still looked good; my normal sense of aesthetics would allow for nothing less. I had on a black skirt and a purple cashmere sweater, my hair in a ponytail. In tiny increments Ã¢â¬â too slow and small for anyone to notice Ã¢â¬â I tightened the sweater around my figure and made the neckline bigger. I put a saunter into my hips and pulled out my ponytail tie, shaking out my hair. It had worked for Maddie and countless nerdy movie girls. It would work for me because I suddenly had a serious issue at stake here. There was no way on God's green earth that I was going for less than Tawny. Ã¢â¬Å"Georgina,Ã¢â¬ said Nick, helping me onto the stage. Ã¢â¬Å"My notes say you prefer Georgie.Ã¢â¬ Yeah, Hugh was definitely getting slapped. Ã¢â¬Å"And that you run a bookstore.Ã¢â¬ If I'd taken a victim recently and had succubus glamour on me, I wouldn't have to do a single thing except stand there. I wouldn't even have to smile. Now I'd have to work a little. Quickly, I assessed this crowd. The kinds of guys who came to events like this tended to be white-collar professionals with disposable income. Some would be here simply because philanthropy was trendy and good for the image, and this was a stylish way to do it. Others, while perhaps not desperate, were nonetheless intellects and introverts who found this a good opportunity to meet women. These men all wanted smart, competent women Ã¢â¬â women who were also pretty, of course. And witÃ¢â¬ ¦wit always went over well. I gave Nick, then the audience, a heart-stopping smile. Ã¢â¬Å"That's right. I organize events, bring in money, make sure everything looks good, and whip people into shape.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Sounds like a lot of work,Ã¢â¬ he said. Ã¢â¬Å"Or,Ã¢â¬ I said, Ã¢â¬Å"an excellent first date.Ã¢â¬ There was no cymbal crash, but my punch line elicited the laughs I'd hoped for. Ã¢â¬Å"You have some high expectations,Ã¢â¬ said Nick. Ã¢â¬Å"Well, I think everyone should. Why settle? If a guy meets my expectations, I'll meet his. And in the end, it's all about sense of humor and a conversation that won't put me to sleep.Ã¢â¬ I realized I sounded vaguely like a Miss America contestant, but maybe there wasn't much difference. I could see from the intrigue in the audience that I'd made a good impression. Ã¢â¬Å"This one's a keeper,Ã¢â¬ said Nick. Ã¢â¬Å"Let's start at fifty for Georgie.Ã¢â¬ I got my fifty and then some. Bids flew around the room. At one point, I glanced at Seth. Our eyes met, and I could tell by his expression that he was on the verge of bidding. I shook my head. He was the only one I wanted to go out with in this room, but I didn't want to taint Maddie's win. I wanted her to feel special. Besides, I also didn't want Seth to blow that much money. I went for seventeen-hundred dollars. Ã¢â¬Å"I can't believe that,Ã¢â¬ Maddie whispered to me afterward. Ã¢â¬Å"I think you're the highest one so far. The guy looked cute too.Ã¢â¬ He had. Late thirties. Armani suit. Harmless. Nobody I planned on establishing anything meaningful with, but he'd do for a casual date. Maybe an energy fix if I decided to use this body. Ã¢â¬Å"You brought in some money yourself,Ã¢â¬ I teased. Her eyes found Seth, sitting across the room, and studied him speculatively. Ã¢â¬Å"Seth probably did it because he felt sorry for me.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Of course not,Ã¢â¬ I said quickly. She still looked skeptical. Ã¢â¬Å"Well, it doesn't matter. I'd rather drink coffee and talk shop with him than go out with some sleazy guy. That other bidder reminded me of this sex offender I saw on TV onceÃ¢â¬ ¦Ã¢â¬ When the auction wound down, I exchanged contact info with my buyer for a future date. Hugh attached himself to Deanna and stayed as far away from me as possible. No worries. I'd have plenty of time to deal with him later. Tawny, fortunately, also stayed away from me and clung to Nick's arm. I watched them like a proud parent. Tonight was going to be a great night.