I was drunk.
I wasn't entirely sure when it had happened, but I suspected it had occurred around the time my friend Doug had bet me I couldn't take down three vodka gimlets faster than he could. He'd promised to take my weekend shift at work if I won, and I was going to do his stock duty for a week if he won.
When we'd finished, it looked like I wasn't going to be working next weekend.
"How did you out-drink him?" my friend Hugh wanted to know. "He's twice your size."
Through the crowd of people crammed into my condo, I peered at the closed bathroom door, behind which Doug had disappeared. "He had stomach flu this week. I'm guessing that doesn't go so well with vodka."
Hugh raised an eyebrow. "Why the f**k would anyone take a bet like that after having the flu?"
I shrugged. "Because he's Doug."
Hoping Doug would be okay, I scanned the rest of my party with the pleased air of a queen sizing up her kingdom. I'd moved into this place back in July and had been long overdue for a housewarming party. When Halloween had finally rolled around, combining the two events had seemed like a pretty reasonable solution. Consequently, my guests tonight were clad in an array of costumes, everything from elaborate Renaissance fair quality garb to the slackers who'd simply thrown on a witch's hat.
Me, I was dressed as Little Bo Peep - well, that is, I was dressed the way Little Bo Peep would if she was a stripper and/or a shameless strumpet. My frilly blue skirt stopped just above the halfway point on my thighs, and my puff-sleeved white blouse was so low-cut that I had to be careful when leaning over. The crowning achievement - literally - was my curly mane of flaxen blond hair, neatly arranged into two pigtails tied with little blue bows. It looked perfect, absolutely indistinguishable from the real thing because...well, it was real.
Shape-shifting always came in handy as a succubus, but for Halloween, it was golden. I always had the best costumes because I really could turn into anything I wanted. Of course, I had to keep it within reason. Too much of a change would raise the suspicions of the humans around me. But for a hair change? Yeah. Shape-shifting was pretty convenient.
Someone touched my elbow. I turned, and my smug enthusiasm dimmed a little when I saw who it was: Roman, my sociopathic roommate.
"I think someone's getting sick in the bathroom," he told me. Roman was a nephilim, half-angel and half-human, with soft black hair and sea-green eyes. If not for the fact he occasionally went on immortal killing sprees and had me on his hit list, he would have been a pretty good catch.
"Yeah," I said. "It's Doug. He lost a vodka challenge."
Roman grimaced. He wore devil horns and a red cape. The irony wasn't lost on me. "Hope he's got good aim. I don't want to clean that up."
"What, you don't do housework either?" asked Hugh. He'd recently learned Roman wasn't paying me rent because he was "between jobs." "Seems like you should pull your weight around here somehow."
Roman gave Hugh a warning look. "Stay out of this, Spiro Agnew."
"I'm Calvin Coolidge!" exclaimed Hugh, highly offended. "This is the same suit he wore at his inauguration."
I sighed. "Hugh, nobody here remembers that." That was one of the downsides of being immortal. Our memories became obsolete as more time passed. Hugh, an imp who bought souls for Hell, was much younger than Roman and me, but he had a lot more years than any human here.
Slipping away from Roman and Hugh's argument, I headed across the room to mingle with my guests. Some of my coworkers from the bookstore Doug and I worked at were huddled around the punch bowl, and I stopped to chat. Immediately, I was bombarded with compliments.
"Your hair is amazing!"
"Did you dye it?"
"It doesn't even look like a wig!"
I assured them it was a very good wig and dealt out praise for them in return. One person, however, earned a rueful head-shake from me.
"You have more creativity than all of us put together, and that's the best you could do?" I asked.
Best-selling author Seth Mortensen turned to look at me with one of his trademark, slightly scattered smiles. Even when I was dizzy with vodka, that smile never failed to make my heart speed up. Seth and I had dated for a while, plunging me into the depths of a love I'd never imagined possible. Part of being a succubus was an eternity of seducing men and stealing the energy of their souls - a real relationship had seemed out of the question. And in the end, it had been. Seth and I had broken up - twice - and while I usually accepted that he had moved on, I knew that I would love him forever. For me, forever was a serious matter.
"I can't waste it on a costume," he said. His amber-brown eyes regarded me fondly. I no longer knew if he loved me too; I only knew for sure that he still cared about me as a friend. I kept trying to portray the same image. "Gotta save it for the next book."
"Lame excuse," I said. His shirt depicted Freddy Krueger, which might have been acceptable if not for the fact I suspected he had owned it long before Halloween.
Seth shook his head. "Nobody cares what guys wear at Halloween anyway. It's all about the women. Look around." I did and saw that he was right. All the elaborate, sexy costumes were on my female guests. With a few exceptions, the men's dulled by comparison.
"Peter's dressed up," I pointed out. Seth followed my gaze to another of my immortal friends. Peter was a vampire, a very fastidious and obsessive-compulsive one. He was clad in pre-Revolutionary French garb, complete with brocade coat and a powdered wig over what was normally thin brown hair.
"Peter doesn't count," said Seth.
Recalling how Peter had painstakingly stenciled swans around his bathroom's baseboards last week, I couldn't help but agree. "Fair point."
"What's Hugh supposed to be? Jimmy Carter?"
"How can you tell?"
I was saved from answering when Seth's fiancée - and one of my best friends - Maddie Sato appeared. She was dressed as a fairy, complete with wings and a gauzy dress nowhere near as slutty as mine. Fake flowers wreathed black hair that had been pulled into a bun. Her being with Seth was something else I'd more or less come to accept, though I suspected the sting of it would never leave. Maddie didn't know Seth and I had dated and had no clue about the discomfiture I felt over their whole relationship.
I expected her to slip her arm around Seth, but it was me she grabbed hold of and jerked away. I stumbled a bit. Five-inch heels weren't normally a problem for me, but the vodka complicated things a bit.
"Georgina," she exclaimed, once we were far enough away from Seth. "I need your help." Reaching into her purse, she pulled out two pages torn from magazines.
"With wha - oh." My stomach twisted uncomfortably, and I hoped I wouldn't be joining Doug in the bathroom. The pages showed photos of wedding dresses.
"I've almost narrowed it down," she explained. "What do you think?"
Grudgingly accepting the man I loved was going to marry one of my best friends was one thing. Helping them plan their wedding was an entirely different matter. I swallowed.
"Oh, gee, Maddie. I'm not very good at this stuff."
Her dark eyes widened. "Are you kidding? You're the one who taught me how to dress right in the first place."
She apparently hadn't taken the lessons to heart. The dresses, while beautiful on the anorexic models wearing them, would look terrible on Maddie. "I don't know," I said lamely, dragging my eyes away. The dresses were conjuring mental images of Maddie and Seth walking down the aisle together.
"Come on," she entreated. "I know you have an opinion."
I did. A bad one. And honestly, if I were a good servant of Hell, I would have told her they both looked great. Or I would have endorsed the worst one. What she wore was no concern of mine, and maybe if she showed up at her wedding looking subpar, Seth would realize what he'd lost when we broke up.
And yet...I couldn't. Even after everything that had happened, I just couldn't let Maddie do it. She'd been a good friend, never suspecting what had occurred between Seth and me before and during their relationship. And as much as that petty, selfish part of me wanted it, I couldn't let her go forward in a bad dress.
"Neither are good," I said at last. "The full skirt on that one will make you look short. The flowers on top of that one will make you look fat."