Charlene stared at the man on the other side of her desk and swallowed hard to keep from drooling. Okay, so from what he was telling her, man wasn't quite the right word, but it was close enough. The differences were only piling fuel on her already blazing hormones.
He was, well, he was perfect. He was tall, but not too tall. He had nicely developed muscles, without running over into the bulgy, veiny look so many men thought made them sexy. He wore his wavy, sooty black hair just long enough that it threatened to look unruly but never did. Even from across her desk, Charlene could see both green and a rich golden brown in his eyes, which were framed by lashes that went perfectly with the hair. His face, hands and wrists could have been molded by a skilled artist, although that artist would have to spend a fortune on materials to capture the living, warm amber of his skin.
He wore sex appeal like good cologne, just enough to be a constant undercurrent without knocking anyone over at ten paces. Human or not, he stood out against the backdrop of her sleek modern office of steel, leather and glass like a bonfire in a snowdrift.
"Right, so you're, ah, looking for a job, you said?" Of course he was; why else would he be at a job placement agency? Charlene felt like an idiot, or a thirteen-year-old with a bad crush, for all the difference there was. "Well, um, what kind of, uh, experience do you have?"
The creature across from her smiled, a long slow smile that told her everything she needed to know about that experience--and maybe more than she was ready to deal with. She shivered, not unpleasantly, and noted with fascination that his teeth were pointed. She wondered what that would mean for...
"Look, we just don't have what anyone would call 'useful' experience. That's our problem."
Charlene shook herself and turned gratefully to the woman, Danielle, who was sitting next to...oh, dear, she hadn't really been paying attention when he told her his name. Tyrell, that was it. But Danielle was still talking.
"There's only one thing we do really well. We were made for it and we've been doing it for centuries. But you humans have developed this sex-on-demand society that's really cutting into our core business."
"No offense, but I find that hard to believe." Charlene gestured across the desk. "I mean, look at you." Danielle was every bit as breathtaking as Tyrell, and Charlene was glad she didn't go for women, or she'd have been completely incoherent dealing with the both of them. Well, there had been that one night in college, but she didn't think it really counted if you were drunk.
Danielle smiled at her, a look very similar to the one Tyrell had just worn, and Charlene felt her cheeks getting warm. She hoped very hard that mind reading was not one of the secondary skills of a succubus.
"I won't say we're not worth it, but we're expensive. How many people do you know who would trade their souls for sex these days," Danielle's smile got broader, "even really good sex, when sex is everywhere?"
Charlene was having a tough time wrapping her brain around the whole concept of demons in her office. She'd have felt like she ought to be looking for the hidden cameras, except that she couldn't make herself doubt them any more than she could look away from them. Since she considered herself an ardent skeptic, that was downright unheard of, even when her libido was involved. Of course, they could be doing something to make her believe them, but that would still mean they really were something way out of the ordinary. And there were the teeth and that slightly smoky scent she could only catch when she wasn't trying.
So, as hard as the situation was to accept, she'd keep going until some producer popped out of nowhere and asked her to sign a release form. After all, her job was to understand the unique needs and situations of her clients, and she prided herself on being very good at her job. "So that's why you're here."
"Right. We're the scouts, you might say. In recognition of our long and fruitful service," Charlene's breath caught as Tyrell winked slowly, "His Unholiness decided to give us a little time to figure out what kind of place we could make for ourselves up here before giving us all the boot."
"We've been looking for a while," Danielle said, "tried a couple of jobs, but they didn't really work out, which is why we decided to come here."
Okay, that was territory where Charlene was on firmer ground. She gave herself a mental shake. Come on, girl. You're the pro here. "So, what have you tried and why didn't it work?"
Danielle shrugged. "Hooking was the obvious first try, but if you'll believe it, almost no one even tried to pick us up on the street."
Charlene didn't have to think very hard to come up with a plausible explanation. "You're gorgeous, proud and healthy. If you're out there, there's either something very wrong with you, or you're bait."
"You could be right. We tried the houses, too," Danielle continued. "Things were a little better."
"So why aren't you still there?"
Tyrell tipped his head to one side. "Partially, I'm not sure that what we offer was what everyone was looking for."
Danielle nodded. "I've seen a grown man reduced to tears because Tyrell did everything he demanded, but did it with dignity. We don't do degradation well, on either side of the equation. That cuts out a certain number of customers. We did better with people who just wanted to try something different."
"And the regulars," Tyrell continued, "although maybe not in the way any house would want. I don't know how many times one of the quiet, polite ones would come in--early, so no one would have to wait for them--and talk to us in the lounge to pass the time. A lot of the time, the next appointment would be with one of us."
"Too much of the time." Danielle shook her head. "Stealing regulars is not good for morale. We lost most of our places that way."
Charlene wasn't in the habit of recommending prostitution to her clients, but a few years counseling had taught her not to be judgmental about what jobs were going to work. "Have you considered opening a house yourselves? There are even places where it's legal."
Danielle and Tyrell looked at each other for a long moment. Finally Danielle nodded.
Tyrell turned back to Charlene. "There's something you should know if you're going to help us. Like most orders of angels and demons, we were built for obedience. We weren't really created to be our own bosses. It's...uncomfortable at best."
Charlene nodded, making a note on her legal pad. "No big deal. Lots of people are like that, too. Have you tried any other jobs?"
"We tried porn, but that didn't work out either." Danielle shook her head.
"Although it does have the advantage of occasionally paying in souls, that's really only if you work behind the camera. And to be honest, we..." Tyrell shrugged--rippling the muscles across his chest in the most fascinating way--and looked embarrassed. "Well, we don't compare to you humans in some respects."
Charlene found herself trying to imagine how Tyrell could possibly, hmm--not measure up. She failed dramatically. "What do you mean?"
"We just aren't that creative."
Danielle asked, "Have you watched much porn?"
Charlene blushed again. She was almost getting used to it. She was profoundly grateful just then for a private office. "I, um, I've seen some."
Danielle's eyes twinkled. "Then you've probably noticed that most of it's not primarily, or even particularly, about physically pleasurable sex."
Charlene thought about it and eventually had to concede that Danielle was right. The guys she knew who liked watching porn, or at least who admitted to it, weren't lacking for physical pleasure. She thought she could be pretty sure of that.
"We're built for pleasure, pleasure-oriented." Danielle uncrossed and recrossed her legs slowly, emphasizing her point. "We're at our best when providing pleasure that has been labeled taboo. We're not so good at thinking something might be pleasurable just because it is taboo."
"Okay, I think I understand that, enough to cross the possibility off our list anyway. Did you try in front of the camera?"
Tyrell laughed. "Oh, did we. It was disastrous. Danielle was a complete loss."
Danielle looked grumpy. "I just did what I do. It's not my fault that cameramen are more interested in multiple angles and hundreds of feet of footage than capturing true ecstasy on film. Tyrell really wasn't any better in the long run."
Tyrell abruptly stopped laughing. "I did just fine in front of the camera." His voice was tight.
"Yeah. So did I. But at least my partners, hasty though they may have been, didn't cry and cling to me after they were done. And none of them walked off the set announcing their intentions of leaving the business and heading back home."
"No, they just never came back after lunch!"
Charlene decided the situation was getting out of hand. "Hey, hey, hey!" They both looked at her. "Are you telling me that all the other, uh, actors you worked with quit?"
Danielle shook her head. "Not all of them. A bunch really wanted to stay and work with us more. But enough usually left to stop filming."
Tyrell jumped in. "A couple of times it was just us left, though, and that...well, it doesn't work."
Charlene blinked. She was pretty sure that was more than she needed to know.
"Same thing happened on every set," Danielle added. "We got a reputation pretty quickly, which meant the end of that work. That was when we decided we could use some help. So here we are."
"Right." Charlene looked at her clients, trying to hide her awe. This was definitely the oddest situation she'd been in as a career counselor. If this worked out, she was going to have to write an article and shop it around to the professional journals. Or maybe not. She still didn't quite believe the whole thing, and she had the evidence on the other side of her desk.
"Well, I haven't had a chance to look at your aptitude or personality scores yet, but I do have one immediate suggestion." Tyrell and Danielle leaned forward. "Have you considered modeling?"
They both looked dubious, but it was Tyrell who spoke. "I don't know. We talked about it, but the trend these days seems to be away from 'desirable' models. Not always, but enough that we're not sure we'd fit in. Scrawny works. Odd is definitely better than beautiful. I mean, look at the runways. All you see are thundering herds of adolescent colts with deadly hipbones."
"True, I guess." Charlene hadn't really thought much about it before. She looked from one face to the other. If anything counted as perfect, they did. Both of them had that same beautiful proportioning and coloring. Both of them.... "But I was thinking of pairing you up."
She leaned over her desk as she warmed to the idea. "I don't think you could ask for a better gimmick than the two of you together. Among people, at least, your kind of perfection is incredibly rare in a single person, much less a matched set. Plenty of twins and triplets have had careers based on a lot less."
Danielle looked thoughtful, tapping her finger against her pursed lips. "It could work."
Charlene grinned, relaxed and at ease for the first time since they had entered her office. "Not to discount my skills, but it could work so well that I'm surprised you didn't think of it."
Tyrell appeared to still be thinking hard and spoke distractedly. "I'm not. It's hard for us to think of ourselves as a rarity. This is what we all look like."
Charlene's jaw dropped. "All the incubi and succubi look like you two?"
That brought Tyrell back to the present. "All incubi, all succubi. All the angels--lofty and fallen--identical. You're looking at the product of an extremely efficient creator. All of the Image-created came from the same mold. We only differ by size, really, and gender when we have any."
Charlene's groping brain settled on old Sunday school lessons. "But then...what about...I mean..." She forced herself to close her mouth and eyes and think for a moment. When she decided she was ready for another assault on her reality, she opened them. Pointing at Danielle, she demanded, "Then why don't I look like that?"
"You don't want to."
"I don't what?!" Charlene realized she had shrieked that last bit and clamped her mouth shut. She might have a closed door, but her office didn't have the thickest walls.
Danielle sighed. "Tyrell, play fair." She turned to Charlene. "What Tyrell means is that you don't want to look like your boyfriend's last girlfriend, or your neighbor, or your receptionist."
Charlene made the effort to speak quietly. "I don't get it."
"Humanity looked exactly like this right up until the fruit. But it didn't take long after that for you to decide that individuality beat the heck out of transcendent beauty."
Charlene knew she wasn't bad looking. Short, but kind of leggy. Fit without being scrawny. She had eyes that wavered between gray and blue depending on her mood. Her hair was straight and a dark brown that bleached to warmer tones in the sun. It made her pale skin look paler, really bringing out the dozen or so freckles that dotted her nose and cheeks. Plenty of people considered her downright cute. But somehow it had never seemed like quite enough.
She sat quietly and estimated the money she'd spent in her life on things like concealer and push-up bras, the time she'd spent trying on swimsuits or with her eyes and nose full of perm solution. She stared at her acrylic nails, so artificial and still falling short of Danielle's natural ones, and allowed herself a moment to curse her overly independent ancestors.
"If it helps," Danielle's voice was soft, "I've been wanting freckles for about three thousand years."
Charlene looked up. Danielle and Tyrell's faces were both full of sympathy. She looked away. Her eyes fell on her Rolodex and she picked it up. Who's counseling whom, here? She took a deep breath. "Nah, it'd spoil the look. Now, about this modeling stuff. I have a friend who's an agent and is always looking for fresh faces. Should I give him a call?"
The modeling worked out well at first, and Charlene followed the careers of her unusual clients with interest. Leon, her agent friend, snapped them up as quickly as she thought he would. He had their teeth capped and set them up for a perfume campaign and two magazine covers by the time she called him to check in two weeks later.
"They're perfect! They're naturals." Leon was almost shouting, but Charlene was used to his constant enthusiasm. It was one of the reasons she'd suggested he go into promotions.
"I'm not looking to hire them, Leon. But tell me straight: do you think they're going to do well at this?"
"Charlie, honey! At the rate they're going, they'll be thoroughly overexposed in a year and a half, but they'll be able to retire about six months before then."
Charlene sighed and Leon continued at a lower volume and slower pace. "I know. I think all my kids are perfect--I have to. But these kids really are the best I've seen. They were perfect in our studio shots--listened to the photographer, knew how to pose, and just about melted the lens. Everyone who's seen them or the pictures wants a piece of them, but I'm doing well by them, using the competing names to boost their prices."
Leon's volume rose again. "Charlie, I swear, I owe you dinner at least. If this goes the way it should, I may owe you diamonds."
"Leon, I hate diamonds. Buy me rubies instead."
"Anything you want, honey." Leon chuckled. "As long as these kids don't crack in our warped little world, I should have plenty to spare."
"I don't think that'll be a problem." Charlene was pretty sure that anyone who'd spent however many thousand years working in Hell could probably handle themselves at a few loud parties. She pictured Leon's face if she were to tell him the age of his "kids." She tallied the modeling job in her success column.
Tyrell and Danielle were enjoying themselves too, although they still had reservations.
"This is going really well for Danielle and me, but what about the rest of us?" Tyrell asked when Charlene called to get their opinion of the job.
"The rest of you?"
"Yeah. We're only the advance guard, remember? How many identical people do you think the modeling world can support?"
"Hmm, good point." Charlene drummed her fingers on her desk. "How many of you are there?"
"A little under eight hundred."
"Yeesh!" Charlene sighed. "Okay, I'll see what I can come up with, but this is going to take time."
"No problem. We've got some, plenty by your reckoning."
When Charlene got off the phone, she turned her attention to her new problem. She'd never been asked to find jobs for eight hundred people at once before, but it shouldn't be too hard. All she needed to do was find a few professions that would suit one person, really. Danielle and Tyrell had identical profiles, so it was safe to assume that the rest of them would, too. Tyrell had assured her that they would take care of the problem of spreading themselves out across the globe, so as long as she stayed with more low-profile professions, having eight hundred clones shouldn't be an issue for any of them.
But the demons were a little odd in many respects, and Charlene still didn't have a very long list a few months later, when she got a call from Leon.
"Charlie, honey, it's your kids. They're killing me."
Charlene wasn't impressed. "What's the matter, Leon? You getting too much work to handle?"
"Oh, I wish." Charlene sat up. That wasn't what she expected to hear.
"What's wrong? I thought you told me they were great, that everybody wanted them."
"They are. They did. And that seems to be the problem. Everybody wants them."
Charlene wasn't by nature the most patient person, and she wondered if Leon knew just how lucky he was to be on the other end of a phone line. "And that means what exactly?" She asked the question slowly and carefully, as though she were speaking to a child.
Leon had his faults, but he wasn't stupid. The answer that came back was, if anything, slower than hers. "That means, honey, that when they're on the cover of a magazine, everybody is spending their time looking at the cover. They don't spend much time with the ads inside. It means that when they've done a perfume spot, people are asking the sales clerks for copies of the poster, not samples of the perfume."
"Oh." Charlene understood the implications immediately. Modeling, as much as some might like to think so, wasn't about pictures of pretty people. It was about selling product. Models who didn't sell the product were not going to have long careers.
Charlene racked her brains for ways in which Danielle and Tyrell could be the product, rather than competing with it. Leon had probably already thought of them, but she had to ask.
"What about calendars?"
"We've got three coming out this fall, one for each of them and one for both. There'll be posters, too. But unfortunately, none of those make much money on their own. Most models use them to get popularity figures to jack up prices on their endorsements." Leon sighed, and Charlene wanted to follow suit, but she wasn't willing to give up yet. She wasn't used to her great ideas turning out this badly.
"Have you tried sending them out for auditions?"
"I have. I have. I had no problem getting them tons. They charm the pants right off directors and producers at parties, but put somebody else's words in their mouths and they're sticks."
Charlene gave up. For the time being, at least, she was defeated.
She put off calling Tyrell and Danielle. She'd never told a client before that they were fired from a job she'd helped them get. Of course, she didn't usually network folks straight into a job after the first meeting. But it still hurt.
Finally, she cursed herself for a coward and picked up the phone. "Danielle? Hi. It's Charlene. You know that list of jobs I've been working on? Well..."
Charlene was feeling desperate. She was spending too much time on the demons' problem. It was cutting into the number of other people she could see, and worse, the amount of attention she could give any problem but this one. Her cat was beginning to pretend she didn't exist even when she was home. She was desperately glad she was between boyfriends.
Danielle and Tyrell were well on their way to becoming her life's work, but their odd mix of personality and aptitude scores severely limited the number of jobs she was willing to send them out for. Tyrell had been right about them not being very creative. They didn't have a remarkable talent for anything (but one, Charlene reminded herself), and she was leery of recommending time-consuming training until she was sure she had a field they'd do well in.
The jobs they'd tried that didn't require advanced skills had only strengthened her resolve on that point. Retail had been a repeat of their modeling experiences--lots of attention and no sales. As waitstaff and bartenders, they'd found themselves being pulled in multiple directions at once, as everyone wanted to monopolize their attention. Again, very poor sales.
Finally Charlene realized there was one sex-related profession they hadn't explored. She didn't know of any strip clubs that offered amateur nights for men, and she didn't have a clue who to ask, so Danielle got to solo as guinea pig this time.
Charlene decided to come along. She'd never been to a strip club, and she was curious. Besides, she hadn't really seen her clients' abilities in action, and she wanted to know what she was dealing with. And as long as she was spending all her free time on their problem, she might as well socialize with them a bit. For demons, they were awfully nice people.
She didn't know what she'd expected, but the club wasn't much different from a regular bar. In fact, it was swankier than The Depot, the bar she usually went to. There were differences, of course--she was definitely in the minority as a woman and she didn't remember a stage with mirrors and a pole on it at any other bar she'd been to. As she sat at a table with Tyrell, she noticed that there was a lot less socializing going on than at The Depot. Maybe a strip club didn't have regulars, or maybe talking to each other would be an admission that they were regulars.
Charlene expected to be uncomfortable, but Tyrell kept the conversation flowing easily until the dancing started.
If you could call it dancing. There was a lot of strutting and posing, but Charlene didn't see much that she considered dancing. But the men in the club were doing a fair amount of hooting and whistling, so Charlene didn't think her opinion was particularly important under the circumstances.
She glanced over at Tyrell to see what his reaction was. He was watching with a polite, noncommittal expression--professional, Charlene thought. He certainly didn't seem as put off as Charlene felt, and when one "dancer" tripped on her five-inch heels, he looked sympathetic. Charlene just thought the woman ought to learn to walk in the things before she tried dancing.
Finally, it was Danielle's turn. Instead of the loud bass-driven rock that played for most of the women, Charlene heard something classical. It was slow and slightly ominous. She thought she'd heard it before, but she couldn't place it.
Danielle stepped out in a short knit skirt and a sleeveless button-up blouse. Her long hair was loose and wavy. She was wearing heels as tall as any Charlene had seen that night, but the first thing she did was take them off. Lifting one leg so her foot was even with her eyes, she unbuckled and removed a shoe, then did the same with the other. Standing in one place, she then slowly unbuttoned the blouse in time to the music and let it drop. She wasn't wearing a bra, and her breasts made Charlene curse her willful ancestors again. Then Danielle lifted the skirt off over her head and stood naked on the stage.
She started to dance. Charlene let out her breath and only then realized she'd been holding it. The room was silent except for the music. Charlene looked around. Everyone was sitting still, staring intently at the stage. She didn't blame them, but she guessed it wasn't the result she'd been looking for.
She turned back and was caught up in Danielle's dance. It wasn't anything like the other strippers' acts. Every move was slow and languorous--no bumping and grinding--but the whole thing reeked of sex. Graceful gestures toward her audience signaled acceptance. Those toward her own body promised ecstasy.
Danielle made her way to the pole at the center of the stage, but she didn't grab it. Instead, she danced around it without ever quite touching it, circling it in motions that eventually brought her to the floor, lying on her stomach, facing the audience with the pole between her arms. She rolled over with her legs folded under her and tucked her hands under her hair. She stood up in a smooth backbend, her hair and hands wrapping the pole gently and brushing from the floor to well above her head.
The club erupted as most of the men rushed the stage. Charlene had only time to scream, "Danielle!" before she found herself lifted out of her chair. Then she was holding on for dear life.
She was shaking when Tyrell set her down outside, and she kept her hold on his shirt. He put an arm around her to steady her, and she leaned into him with her head against his chest. She took deep breaths, trying to calm down.
It didn't work, and it didn't take Charlene long to figure out why. That lovely, vaguely smoky smell that she had just caught in her office was undiluted here. And the body that had given her so many difficulties on the other side of a desk was pressed full length against her. She tried not to whimper.
Charlene felt her hands start to unclench and tightened them back up quickly. She didn't know where they'd go if she let them, although she had plenty of ideas. She felt lightheaded and weak. For the first time, she knew "dizzy with desire" wasn't just a cliche.
The only problem was that Tyrell was her client. And while she could tell herself that he wasn't like her other clients, that he'd been created for just this, that he wasn't even human, he was still a client. She didn't, didn't, didn't sleep with clients--not even just this once. Not even when he was so wonderfully close. Not even....
Her hands stayed locked on Tyrell's shirt while she tried to decide which way she'd jump if she let go.
Her knuckles were starting to ache. She couldn't stay like this. Her knees would give out soon. Charlene debated which of the two options she'd eventually be strong enough, or weak enough, to take. She hadn't come close to deciding when she heard Danielle's voice.
"You two look cozy. No injuries, then?"
Charlene flung herself away from Tyrell, trying to put as much distance as politely possible between them. She could feel that she was flushed. "Danielle! Are you okay? I...I'm sorry."
Danielle gave a Tyrell long look and Charlene a short wink before answering. "Don't be. I move a little faster than you do. I was dressed and heading out the door before anyone even figured out how to get backstage. But I think that's another job we can rule out."
Charlene snorted. "I think so." She wasn't feeling very clearheaded and wasn't up to trying to come up with something else right away, but one thought did occur to her. "You know, if you two could find a way to bottle that scent, you wouldn't have to worry about working."
Tyrell lifted his eyebrows. "Scent?"
"Never mind." Charlene sighed. "Back to work then."
If she couldn't figure out a way to turn that magnetism into a productive job, at least it made getting them hired a snap. Tyrell and Danielle were popular as personal assistants--until they accompanied their bosses out in public. Then they discovered how much people who could afford that kind of assistant enjoyed being upstaged.
Productivity slowed in any office they walked into, and gossip and backstabbing soared. Besides, they couldn't type. All their coordination and skill seemed to be as specialized as they were. She crossed commercial driving off her list of possibilities with a shudder. Production line jobs were out for the same reasons, although she wasn't sure who would be injured first, the demons or their distracted coworkers.
Charlene became progressively more depressed as the pool of possible careers dwindled. She dreaded calling Tyrell and Danielle for her periodic progress checks, afraid to hear that they'd lost another job, or to tell them that she hadn't found anything new for them to try that week. She started to hate the phone, even though she always felt better by the end of a conversation with them.
It didn't help that she was beginning to think of them as friends. She'd done some research on their history and lore as background for her search, but she really couldn't take their "demonic" reputation seriously. She tended to chalk it up to the sexual views of those puritanical societies they said they'd always done well in. Talking to them over the phone, she didn't have the distraction of their appearance to keep her from noticing how kind they were, how patient with her lack of progress. They were funny, too, with an interesting perspective on humanity and thousands of years of observations. But that meant that she was now failing her friends, instead of just her clients.
This week was particularly bad. It was the third week in a row they'd been out of work, and she didn't have anything for them. She'd hit a wall on new ideas. She'd left the call for her last thing that day, and she still hadn't worked herself up to it by the end of office hours. She sat and looked at the phone for so long that her vision went gray. Then she shook herself and picked it up.
When the dial tone changed to the annoying seesaw tones that told her she'd left the phone off the hook too long, she hung it up and paced. There had to be a solution out there somewhere, and she despised herself for not being able to find it. This was what she'd studied to do, where she had invested her time and energy. She was supposed to be good at it. Until now, she'd thought she was good, but maybe it was time to face the fact that she wasn't good enough and send them to someone better.
She was equally happy and annoyed at the ringing that interrupted her musings. She picked up the phone.
"Hey there," Tyrell's soothing voice came across the line. "I thought I'd check in with you since we hadn't heard from you yet. Everything okay over there?"
Charlene looked at the clock. It was seven. She suddenly noticed how quiet the office was and realized she'd just lost two hours to fruitless pacing and cowardice. Her patience and belief in herself needed only that last push to collapse.
"No, Tyrell. I'm sorry," She sobbed. "Everything isn't okay over here."
"Charlene, what's the matter?"
"Oh, I'm hopeless, Tyrell. All my training, my experience--useless. All I'm good for is sending you off to be yelled at and fired by a new boss."
"Whoa, whoa! Slow down." He waited while Charlene struggled to regain her composure. "What brought this on?"
"It's...I'm...I just can't do this. I hate letting you down like this, but I just can't."
"I understand. It's okay. You have other clients. You can't devote all your time to us." Tyrell's tones were so calming that Charlene could feel a little of her tension melt as she listened to them. It took her a moment to register what he'd said.
"What? No! I'd spend all my time getting you and Danielle the right job if I thought it would do any good. But I don't think I'm...well, I'm not good enough to find you what you need." The admission cost her, and she waited for confirmation from the other end of the line. What came instead surprised her.
Tyrell laughed so loudly Charlene had to hold the phone away from her ear and so long that she was starting to feel annoyed by the time he was coherent.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Tyrell said and pealed into laughter again. This bout was shorter, but Charlene was definitely irritated now.
"What's so funny?" she demanded.
"Sorry, sorry." Tyrell took a deep breath. "Okay, how many jobs have you found for us?"
"A couple dozen, I guess, but none of them--"
"Right. You've found us two dozen possible occupations, regardless of their final suitability." Tyrell chuckled again. "Do you want to make a guess at how many uses Lucifer has found for us?"
"One. Since our creation, he's managed to find exactly one use for us, and it's what he made us for. You're beating the devil twenty to one and you think you're no good?!" Tyrell lost it again, but Charlene was too busy thinking to care.
Maybe her expectations were unrealistic. After all, she didn't exactly have reference books on occupations suitable for supernatural beings, and she'd certainly never seen a class offered on the topic. Come on, girl, she told herself. The fact that you've been immune to failing at work before doesn't mean you could keep it up forever. You ought to be grateful it took something this weird to do it.
She started chuckling herself, which sent Tyrell off once more. She felt a little lightheaded from too much oxygen by the time they were done but much happier. They had a good chat about the fun that he and Danielle were having trying to fit in as normal humans.
When they were ready to get off the phone, Tyrell asked, "Feeling better?"
"Much. You couldn't have said anything better to help me put everything into perspective. I should have expected it though."
Charlene shrugged, even though she knew Tyrell couldn't see it. "You always do, both of you. You always seem to know just what to say when I'm feeling discouraged. You should be--" She clamped her mouth shut and thought hard.
"Should be what, Charlene?" Tyrell sounded concerned. "Are you still okay?"
"Fine. I just need to.... Can I call you back?"
"Uh, sure. One of us will be around all evening."
"Okay. I'll talk to you soon."
Charlene changed her mind. "No, wait!"
"What?" He sounded confused.
"Just a couple of quick questions." Charlene tried to slow her brain down long enough to pick one. "How would you feel about going to school for a while?"
"We'd be fine with it, but would it really be the classwork we'd need or just the degree?"
"Maybe some classwork, but mostly the degree, I think," Charlene decided. "I'd say you've certainly got the talent."
"That's no problem then. With a little help from below, we can have degrees from any university you want, and they'll stand up under checking. What's up?"
"I'm not quite ready to say." Charlene thought again. There was one issue that could derail her plan right off. "I don't like to have to ask this. I think I know the answer, but if I don't ask, I'll hate myself. Is there any reason that, as demons, you'd have a problem doing something actively good for people?"
Tyrell was silent. Charlene started to wonder if she was going to have to throw out another idea, but he finally answered. "I don't think there should be any problem. Lucifer might not care for it much, but that would solve our problem just as well."
"It was his idea to have us support ourselves. If he doesn't like it, he can always go back to status quo."
"Oh." Charlene felt a little flat, as though some of her triumph had been leached away.
Her feelings must have communicated themselves to Tyrell. His voice was warm with humor when he spoke. "Of course, he tends to be a little self-centered. It would probably take him a couple hundred years to notice and then only if we really have an impact. I take it you have another idea?"
"I do, but I'm not willing to share it just yet. Let me do a little more research. I don't want to get anyone's hopes up prematurely, least of all mine."
"I'm sure it will be good," Tyrell said. "Call us when you're ready."
When Charlene got off the phone, she started grabbing reference books. Education checked out about how she thought it would. If anything, the standards were lower than she thought. A simple B.A. would work.
The hours were perfect, with most starting positions being at night. The pay was livable for people, although she'd never quite gotten a handle on what the demons needed for living arrangements. The personality types who tended to do best and be happiest were almost identical to Tyrell and Danielle's. Best of all--from her perspective--there was no lack of openings across the globe.
What about all the problems they've run into? she reminded herself sternly. Well, the biggest by far was the distraction that their looks caused. That shouldn't be an issue here. They'd need privacy from their coworkers for what they'd be doing, and their clients would never see them. And Tyrell had just answered her most serious misgiving.
She certainly didn't have to worry about lack of skills. Anything they hadn't had built into them at their creation, they seem to have learned just fine over the millennium. In fact...Charlene stopped to mull over a new idea.
When she ran out of unanswered objections, Charlene called the demons back. This time she got Danielle.
"So, I hear you've got a new idea for us."
Danielle's voice was warm and supportive, bolstering Charlene's confidence in her idea. "I do; tell me what you think. How would you like to be a phone counselor, probably a crisis counselor?"
"I think..." Danielle was silent for a moment. Charlene held her breath. "I think I'd like that." She sounded surprised.
Charlene smiled to herself. Of course you would. If I'm right, this is part of what you were made for. She wondered if Danielle would be able to tell her, if she asked, how many people had sold their souls over the years, not for forbidden sex, but for pillow talk, for having that sympathetic ear and voice beside them in the darkest parts of the night.
Not that she'd mention it. No sense giving them any ideas. They might be friends, but they were still demons, after all.
Charlene did a little happy dance sitting in her chair. The demons had chosen her for the hardest job of her life, and she'd done it. She knew she had, even if she could never tell anyone but the demons. Even if she could never tell them the whole story. She'd done it.
Aloud, though her eyes twinkled as she said it, she said only, "I thought you might."