Drills echo and mix with the vibrating power of saws piercing plywood. The renovation of our living room is in full swing and though I know I couldn’t be dumber, I’ve left such repairs in the hands of the twins.
I instead work on getting dressed. This will be the third shirt I’ve attempted to put on and with diligent care, I get it up over my shoulders without ripping the delicate fabric.
I hate suits. It’s apparent whoever decided to create such things never thought men would grow with much muscle. I am a particular case. I have an abundance but still, in this day and age, fabric shouldn’t tear so easily.
I button up the shirt, eyeing my image, hating my heritage more than I usually do. If I really think about it, it’s not the fact that I’m Irish that I’m big-boned and short. It’s because of my father and everything that he made me do when I was a child that shaped me into this odd body. Lifting potato sacks from the time I was four, fist-fighting in drunken farm houses, and then, perhaps the worst of it all, throwing me in a small, compact cage whenever I lost.
In the mirror, my reflection drums up memories. Tymician bought me this suit. I can still see his face as I stood in the tailor’s illuminated office with mirrors all around us. I had my arms stretched out and the peculiar, obviously gay man circle me with a measuring tape. The stranger kept hitting on me, only sparking laughter from Tymician who leaned against the wall, devilishly enjoying my suffering.
“Is this really necessary?” I had asked him, dropping my arms, hoping that he’ll spare me from further embarrassment.
“The Elders expect perfection.” He said. “Never give them less.”
I fix the collar of the jacket before stuffing my hands in my pockets. I’m as perfect as I’m going to get.
I head toward Eric and Tristan’s room, hoping they’re actually ready and not goofing off as much as I expect them too. My footsteps however, slow down to sneak a peek. I can hear Eric from the open door. I lean in and though they are partially ready, dressed in common church clothes, Tessa is with them. She assists Eric with the buttons of his shirt, since fingertips are generally a requirement in the process.
“I was done in by the C of E. They strung me by me goolies and set me afire. Beastly hot, that. Me mum, me sis, screaming right with me.”
“When did you know you were cursed?”
“Heaven.” He attempts to fix his own collar but she gladly helps with that too. “The way they were lookin at me. I knew.”
“Did you Fall instantly?”
“A fortnight. Arch Raphael, that wanker said he could fix me. But I couldn’t wait. Heaven ain’t no place for ugly.” He kisses her cheek in thanks and snatches his mask, yanking it over his baldhead.
Her attention turns to Tristan and though he’s tying his shoes, she comes over and busies herself with the wrinkles in his shirt, fretting like a mother hen. “How’d you die?”
He leans back and lifts his shirt, exposing a small knife wound right under his ribcage. She leans down, her fingers roaming across the white lump. He cackles, snatching her hand. “I was in Africa, part of the Swahili tribe when the Portuguese attempted to take over our port. I was a dumb boy thinking I could best a man that was bigger than me.”
She giggles, poking his side “You’re not so small yourself. You have to be like, six-two.”
“Six-three, actually.” He pokes her back but she manages to slap his hand away, “How’d you die?”
That’s about all I can take and I barge in, “What kind of conversation is this? We don’t talk about this.”
Tessa’s smile falters at the sight of me, brushing her bangs out of her face, “It’s called therapy. You’re supposed to talk about it.”
“Maybe that’s what Angels do because they all enjoy living in the past they can’t change but Fallen, what we are, don’t talk about that.”
“Oh.” She nods her head, curling her lip in a tight frown. “Is that what you Fallen do? Ignore the problem until it buries itself under years of destructive behavior? How delightfully immature of you.” She heads toward me, hoping to make for the exit but I keep my stance in the doorway, blocking her.
“Immature? I’m not the one ignoring the other for the past few hours. I used you, Tessa. Get over it.”
I spin for the hallway but she latches onto my wrist.
“I won’t get over it. I trusted you and you turned me over to Matthias. I’m glad it backfired.” She shoves me out of the way to stomp down the hall.
I follow stubbornly, “I should return you. You shouldn’t be here. You don’t belong here.”
Tessa spins on her foot and dares, “Then do it. What’s stopping you? Can’t use me anymore, that ship has sailed!”
“You think I can’t use you? Any moment I can offer you up for money. I wonder how much Isis’ adoptive daughter goes for?”
“I bet I’m more than you!”
“You--” Words catch in my throat. Rage is what tenses every muscle in my body and screams at me to demolish the wall behind her but underneath that, there is undeniable desire to make her yells turn to thrilling, gratifying, thunderous moans.
“Um..” Tristan murmurs and I shrink back, swallowing the sexual fantasy that popped in my head.
“Are we interrupting?”
Licking my lips, I wave my hand, “Let’s go. Hurry.” The boys pass between us and rush down the kitchen steps. I cough, clearing my throat. “We’ll talk when I get back.”
Tessa rests against the wall. Her eyes stare wide and uncertain at the floor and barely acknowledges that I said anything at all. “Yeah.”
I hope to God she didn’t notice it. I wouldn’t be able to face her again if she knew I was developing any sort of lust for her.
That’s all it is. It’s lust. She’s new here and she’s something that I can never have. It’s simply a fantasy that’s going to play out in my head but I’m never going to act upon. I’m smarter than that.
Night approaches the city of Tampa Bay. The Lightning Forum ignites in all its grandeur and hundreds of people gather for a game. It’s easy for us to suddenly appear on the sidewalk without anyone caring about our arrival.
Phil guides us along the street. I’ve been here before but each time the procedures seem to be more extensive and evasive. A limo idles by the side of the road and shortly, a man steps from the vehicle buttoning his black suit and whispering into the wire at his ear. He looks like secret service but he is an Angel and proudly wears a tattoo on the left side of his neck to signify his clan.
“You’re late. We were beginning to think you weren’t coming. Everyone else has arrived.”
This faction of Angels names themselves the TBA, Tampa Bay’s Authority. I do not know how sophisticated their technologies and talents run but I appreciate their abilities to protect and safeguard twenty-five of my Elders.
As we drive, Lexington offers us wine. Before the boys can latch onto it, I readily deny the service. It matters little that Tristan and Eric are not only old enough to drink or can’t get drunk (need blood for that). I can’t trust that the drinks aren’t laced with any killer drug.
“We appreciate your business. Kio has always been a very generous client. We have set your clan mates up at our best location. The Bank of America Plaza provides a private conference for up to three hundred of your most powerful.”
I grip the seat when a Shroud knocks my connection to the Source. It’s nauseating being so unprepared and I hold my head to ease the dizziness.
Lexington smiles sympathetically, “I apologize, I should have warned you. We have twelve Shrouds set up in strategic locations, each surrounded by shields set up by a most powerful Inyana. No one can get in or out without our complete knowledge.” He smiles warmly, “At the price you are paying, you deserve nothing but the best, sir.”
Eric scratches the folds of the fabric around his face, “What’s Inyana? Sounds barmy.”
Lexington glances but looks steadily away. “A Zulu Diviner. Or as an Englishman would claim: A witch.”
We’re fifteen minutes late when we stop in front of the glass building. Forty-two levels of solid fortification. I should feel good about this. Is it of any surprise that I’m scared shitless?
The elevator manages to fill my stomach with dread and I jump on my feet in nervousness. What would Tymician say to me at this moment? What would he be doing?
I can see it so clearly. He’d have his hands in the pockets of his loose khaki pants, wearing outdated sandals. There’d be a vest over his shoulders with no shirt underneath to show the vibrant lines of his scars, a sign of his suffering, a mark of who he is and what he went through under his trials for God.
He’d smirk at me, ‘Try to smile, kid. They’ll hate it.’
He’d want me to have confidence. That’s what my family sees in me. The fearless man I am. But they’re wrong. Tymician holds my courage in his hand. Everything that I am is because he has built it into me. Without him, I’m afraid. I’m weak and terribly fearful of everything I do.
The elevator bings and I come to the realization that I’m out of time.
I take a deep breath and enter into the conference room that holds twenty-four of Kio’s superlative Fallen.