1 Thea

A man steps up to the plate, the number forty-eight emblazoned in red and blue across his back. Thea pushes herself out of the recliner's well-worn divot and onto the cushioned edge, careful not to spill a drip of tea.

One of the commentator's voices blare out of the television's speaker. "It's Grant Stevenson's chance to shine here!"

Thea's heart beats faster with each word. She tightens her hands around her cup and draws it towards her chest. "Come on, come on!"

The pitcher's leg comes up. Then static shoots across the screen in chaotic patterns.

Wide-eyed, Thea jumps up to her feet and sweeps her arms between the cushions, "No, no, no. Not now! Where is it?". The phone laying on the kitchen counter chimes out gentle music. She sends a pillow flying with a stray hand and scrambles to the counter. "Gotcha."

The commentator cuts in and out, "It's up! Fly-- high a-- far to leftfi--".

Thea rips out the charging cable, slaps a thumb onto the red decline button, and turns back to the television. The static clears and cheering people in red and blue uniforms charge the field, hands held high above their heads. "--grand slam and they're into the semi-finals!"

Cold prickles run across Thea's back. She missed it. All the effort to get this awful television with this awful antenna, and she misses it.

The phone rings again. Thea clicks off the television.

The image blinks out with a crackle, leaving the sparsely decorated room dim, a single lamp trying its best. Thea sinks into the recliner with a sigh and looks down at the phone. Same number.

A calendar notification slides down: "Tomorrow, Rent". Thea swipes it away, taps the pulsing green phone icon, and brings the device up to her ear. "Thea Aalb--". The phone vibrates against Thea's head, previously serene bells blasting directly into her ear.

Thea jerks the phone away and presses down until she sees the display change. "Thea Aalberg, Priest-for-Hire."

A high pitched voice with a slight New York accent comes through. "Oh! Yes, hello! I saw one of your fliers at the grocery store. Is now a good time?"

Thea stretches over, grabs a black notepad off the coffee table, and leafs through to a blank page. "Yeah, what can I do for you?"

"So I understand that you can smell sin? Right? Would you be able to track down my son and have a talk with him? He's at the ~Jolly Day Inn~ on ~Teak~, though I'm not sure on the room number."

Thea rests her cheek on her balled up hand. Another one of these. "And what's the talk?"

"*Ahem* -- A short chat about the virtues of abstinence before marriage. Maybe throw in something about respecting his parents too. You're a priest, you can ad lib it, right? I didn't think to prepare something."

"Yeah, I've done similar in the past."

"Wonderful, even better! Now I didn't see a price for your services on the flier here..."

Thea writes down the street and hotel name. "For this job... Wait, you have the flier there? You're not suppose to take the whole--"

"Is eight-hundred enough?"

Thea's voice catches in her throat. "Uh, yeah that sounds like enough. I'll text you when it's done, then?"

"Wonderful! That works great for me. Thanks Miss Thea!"

The phone beeps and goes quiet. Thea glances at the screen. No call now, just a myriad of apps against a waterfall background. Thea opens her recent calls, taps the first entry, and saves the contact as "Ehhh". She really should have gotten that person's name.

---

Shadows race through the streets as the sun dips below the edges of multilevel buildings. Thea twists the throttle and rockets down the street on her motorcycle. Wind sweeps through the short cape of her cassock, sending it whipping against arms, backpack, and helmet alike.

It's nice. This whole motorcycle thing.

Music in her helmet's earpiece fades out and into the deep tones of the station deejay. "That was Caught by Circumstance performed by Ain't No Cats -- a local band if you'd believe it. Couple mandatory news announcements for y'all: A rookie is trying their luck tonight over on--".

Grimacing, Thea reaches her hand up to the earpiece and mutes the stream.

A sign with worn lettering spelling out "~Teak Road~" is nestled among the traffic lights at the intersection ahead. Thea's hands tighten around the handles. Almost there, and hopefully almost done.

The hotel is a classic: beige and reddish-brown brick walls, a glass entryway, too many parking spots. Thea pushes on the brake, turns into the lot, and drives past the lobby. Just inside, a receptionist stares down at a phone on his desk, tapping away with his fingers. Thea pulls into a spot. Good. She can probably walk right on in without being noticed.

No one else is in the parking lot, just empty cars and bugs clustered in the beams of light cast by street lamps. Thea walks in the pockets of shadows between them, wanting to avoid those swarms now that her helmet is off. The lobby on the other side of the double glass doors has the usual furniture and a television broadcasting constant news. No people beyond the receptionist. Thea pushes through.

An electronic chime rings out.

Thea's shoulders tense up and a grimace slips across her face. Act natural, just keep walking.

A stairwell door sits open across the lobby. Thea strides toward it. The receptionist lets out a cough and his phone stops making noise. Thea freezes and creeps her head around to look behind her.

The receptionist's head is still fixed upon his phone, his finger hovers above its dark screen. Thea stares for a moment. His head droops towards the desk, getting closer and closer. Then it shoots back up like a spring pulled too far; where it starts drooping anew. Thea's shoulder's relax and she strolls past the threshold.

The sound of Thea's footsteps echo around the stairwell's barren walls. Thea looks up and takes a sniff. Boysenberry, gooseberry, and yew with a hint of elderberry. She jogs up two steps at a time. With each landing, the smell of elderberry grows.

Thea bursts through the door of the fourth floor and bends over to place her hands on her knee. Varying shades of abstract patterns adorn the carpet; too-tiny sconces light the hall. Her lungs are on fire, her side has a stitch, and the carpet only makes her nausea and spinning head worse. Thea leans up against a wall and slides down to sit. Whose idea was it to take two at a time? And why does it only take four flights to feel all this?

The elderberry scent is strongest in front of the door to room 410, its numbered plaque hangs lopsided against the door. Thea knocks with one hand and fidgets in her pocket with the other.

Shuffling sounds slip through the cracks of the door. "One second."

Thea's pocketed hand brushes across a smooth fabric she didn't expect. A scrunchy. She takes it out and begins wrapping her black hair in a loose bun at the back of her head. Must have left it in with the wash.

The door jerks inwards revealing a grimacing young man in his early twenties. Sparkling, ever-shifting layers of translucent purple and blue float upwards from where his hair should be. "What's up?"

Thea stops with the bun, leaving hair shooting from its base in all directions. The man stares. Thea lowers her hands and reaches one out. "Thea Aalberg, I'm here at the request of your mom."

The door starts to close. "Bye I guess."

Thea holds her hands up, palms out. "Wait, wait! I'm just trying to get some money and your mom was willing to pay. I couldn't care less about the premarital sex."

The door stops. "Excuse me? The what?"

"Oh, I can smell it."

He furrows his brow and the sparkles in his hair wink out. "Gross."

Wide-eyed, Thea shakes her hands back and forth. "No, no, not like that! It's more like I can... How do I explain? Forget it. Can you just tell your mom I talked to you if she asks?"

The door begins moving again. "Probably not. But sure."

"One more thing."

The door stutters to a halt and his eyes roll, eventually landing on her. Thea slips the backpack off her shoulder and roots through the contents. She gets arm deep and finds what she's looking for. A plastic pencil box. Thea thrusts it towards the man. "Here. It's got condoms and dental dams and stuff. Got to stay safe, right?"

He stares. She doesn't move her hand. He yanks it from her grasp. "Whatever. Just go. And thanks I guess."

Thea zips up her pack, grabs a strap, and swings it back. "Yep."

Cold night air sweeps through piles of red and orange leaves, sending them scrapping against the asphalt. Mind absorbed in thought and music, Thea speeds along on her bike. Maybe it's a treat night. What ice cream to buy though? Mint, vanilla, cherry?

The music cuts to the familiar deejay's voice once again. "Mandatory update on our rookie around Willow y'all. Fights broke out. They're spilling north--".

Thea mutes the station. Gas station? Grocery store? Both have good selections. The grocery store's is more expensive though...

Everything next spans a moment: A person smashes through a nearby building, a chunk of rock slams into the motorcycle sending it flying, and Thea decides on chocolate.

The world spins as if in slow motion. Buildings, ground, other buildings, sky. Over and over. Until everything disappears into sudden blackness with a thump.

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