After reading Michaeline and Jilly’s amazing entries, I’m pretty embarrassed to post this one. Through the magic of multiple marriages, I am blessed with copious numbers of children and grandchildren. Every year I host a big do on Christmas Eve and attend a second one on Christmas day. Which leaves very little time for writing.
I’ve actually given up on moving forward on whatever work-in-progress is in progress in December each year, but since this is my first year being an Eight Lady at Christmas, I didn’t want to ignore the annual short story tradition here. But while the spirit was willing, the creativity (and writing time) were weak. Many apologies.
Bear With Me on This
“I hate to say this, sweetie,” Lilith said, turning away from the window that looked out on the church parking lot, “but I don’t think he’s coming.”
The bride, who was dressed in a poofy white tulle confection that made her look like a snowball cupcake, promptly burst into tears. On her finger, a diamond the size of a small planet winked in the thin winter sunlight.
“I can’t believe this,” Megan wept, mascara sludge running down her cheeks. “Jeremy promised me he’d be here early this morning. He promised. Look again.”
Lilith pretended to look out the church window, where the tidy lot remained wonderfully devoid of Mercedes SL convertibles. Then she caught sight of her own ghostly reflection in the window, dressed in a pale pink dress with a princess waistline and puffed sleeves. She looked absolutely ghastly.
When Megan’s attendants had broken out with chicken pox yesterday, Lilith, a recent hire in the Zoology Department at Megan’s workplace, had offered to stand in. She’d suggested providing her own dress, but Megan had her heart set a pastel rainbow of bridesmaids.
Lilith grimaced. Satan below, the things she put up with in pursuit of human misery. Despite the nightmarish dress, Lilith eyed her curvaceous figure approvingly. She hadn’t put on a pound since the day the Enemy first formed her, five thousand years ago. If all went according to plan, no one but Megan would ever see the dress, anyway.
“There, there,” Lilith said. “He’s not the only man in the world. There are other…” She started to say, “…toads in the swamp,” but at the last minute she changed it, “…fish in the sea.”
Megan only cried harder. “I don’t want another fish. I want Jeremy.”
It was no surprise that Jeremy had not arrived. Lilith had spent nearly two hours the night before working with the crew from DemSec, the satanic support team for demons on Aboveworld assignments, installing a device on his Mercedes that would make it glide to a halt on the long stretch of deserted road between Jeremy’s house and the church. Then they had siphoned off just enough charge from his cell phone to ensure he couldn’t call for help.
Better living through technology.
Lilith made sympathetic noises until the girl’s initial bout of tears started to wind down. Then she said, “How about if we blow out of here? Go get drunk to celebrate your narrow escape?”
Megan looked at her, round-eyed with horror. “We can’t do that. Daddy spent a fortune on this wedding.”
“I understand,” Lilith said, “but we can’t very well have a wedding without a groom, now can we?”
That brought on a fresh onslaught of tears. Lilith hadn’t wanted to take this assignment, which was so easy it wasn’t even a challenge, but Satan had insisted. Every bit of human misery, he said, no matter how easily achieved, moved the Hellish cause forward. He’d promised her a promotion if she could make it happen.
“How did you meet Jeremy?” she asked. The mission dossier had been woefully short on details.
“At UC Davis,” Megan sobbed. “We were in the zoology program together. We planned to be ursinologists together.”
Really? This little cream puff wanted to study bears?
Outside the church, a car horn tootled.
Megan’s head came up. “That’s Jeremy.” Her tears dried as if by magic.
Frowning, Lilith looked outside. Sure enough, Jeremy was exiting his convertible, looking dapper in a black morning coat and dove-gray vest. A leggy woman in a sky blue dress made in the same style as Lilith’s got out on the passenger side. Unlike Lilith’s, her dress color suited her caramel skin perfectly. Lilith couldn’t see her face but dozens of fine dark braids cascaded down her back.
Lilith hissed. Just her luck to land an assignment with an over-achiever guardian angel working the other side. Suddenly, the assignment didn’t look so easy. It was time to get serious.
Injecting the maximum amount of surprise and confusion into her voice, Lilith said, “He has a woman with him.”
But Megan’s attention was on repairing the damage her tears had wrought and she didn’t respond.
Lilith tried again. “She’s gorgeous.” Karriel looked flawless because she was, of course, flawless.
“That’s Karrie.” Megan didn’t even look up from her mirror. “When Bella got sick, she offered to be my maid-of-honor. Just like you offered to stand in for Emma. She’s not from around here, so Jeremy said he’d give her a ride to the church.”
Lilith scowled out the window. That would have been nice to know when she was planning Jeremy’s car troubles. Now she’d have to improvise.
“Interesting that they’d ride together, your groom and your maid-of-honor,” she said.
“Mmm.” Megan said.
“How well do they know each other? They seem pretty…cozy.”
Megan didn’t answer. Why wasn’t this working? Female insecurity was one of Lilith’s chief tools. It would work best if Megan jumped to the conclusion that Jeremy had slept with her maid-of-honor, rather than Lilith spelling it out for her.
Lilith gave it another little push. “How well do you know her?”
With a makeup sponge, Megan evened out her foundation. “She’s Jeremy’s half-sister.”
Lilith turned to her sharply, genuine surprise making her blurt out, “She’s what?”
“It’s the wildest story. It turns out his dad was married when he was a teenager. The marriage only lasted a few weeks. They split and I guess Karrie’s mom never even told him she was pregnant. Karrie and Jeremy only just found out about each other through one of those DNA sites.”
Lilith’s eyes blazed. The other side had foreseen Satan’s interference in this wedding and they’d been prepared. If DemSec had bothered to provide any of this information, Lilith might have been prepared, too. She could feel her temper building toward an eruption, but she tamped it down. The fact was, she and Karriel had been on a collision course for millennia now.
“So a mysterious woman appears out of nowhere and you just accept her as Jeremy’s sister?” she said.
“Why would she lie?” Megan asked.
Well, she wouldn’t. Not directly, anyway. That was one of the many advantages demons had over angels. They could lie, while angels couldn’t.
Which brought her to the last arrow left in her quiver. From her phone, she texted DemSec to proceed with Phase Three. A moment later, Megan’s phone buzzed and she actually stopped fussing with her makeup long enough to read it.
“Oh, no,” she wailed.
“What’s wrong?” asked Lilith.
“Jeremy had to cancel our honeymoon reservation.”
Lilith pretended to be shocked. “What happened?”
“The beach-front estate where we were supposed to stay turned out to be a nudist colony.”
“How did he miss that when he was setting things up?”
“I don’t know.” Megan glowered at the phone. “He had one thing to arrange for this wedding, and he screwed it up.”
Lilith drew a sigh of relief. She’d finally managed to drive a wedge between them.
“Maybe he was thinking, ‘what better time to spend naked than on your honeymoon?’” she joked.
Megan’s face turned pink. “I could never do that.”
Her attitude was baffling. Behind every zipper was pretty much the same thing. Lilith set that aside as a puzzle to be solved another day. Right now, it was time to wreck this wedding, for once and for all.
“What a fiasco,” Lilith said. “First he oversleeps, then he shows up with another woman, and now he’s ruined your honeymoon. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life dealing with all that?”
Megan’s lower lip had begun to tremble, a sure sign that more waterworks were on their way, when a knock sounded at the door.
“Who is it?” Lilith called. She was not letting Karrie in here to sprinkle everything with hope and rainbows.
“Jeremy,” said a masculine voice.
“He can’t come in,” Lilith said quickly. “It’s bad luck for him to see your dress before the wedding.” She hesitated delicately. “That is, if there’s still going to be a wedding.”
Megan crossed her arms. “Let him in.”
If there was ever a “let’s call the whole thing off” expression, it was the one on Megan’s face. Gleefully, Lilith opened the door.
Jeremy rushed past her to grab Megan by the shoulders. “Our dreams just came true!”
But Meagan wasn’t having any. “Since when is it our dream not to have a honeymoon?”
“Thanks to Karrie, something better just came through.”
Megan’s eyes went wide. “You mean—?”
“Yellowstone,” he nodded, grinning. Megan jumped to her feet and threw her arms around him.
Lilith watched as her promotion evaporated right before her eyes. She made one last desperate effort to save it. “What about the beach? Warm sunlight, toes in the sand?”
Megan turned a radiant face toward her. “Who cares about the beach? We’re going to spend our honeymoon tracking grizzly bears!”