Authors: A.J. Norris
“Is this a bathroom?” Amalya asked, wandering over to the other door off the bedroom.
Elliott nodded. “Towels are in the cabinet behind the door.”
She closed the door, grateful for the reprieve, and grabbed a fresh towel then set it on the vanity. The room actually had two doors; one that opened up into the hallway and the other the bedroom. It had enough room for a full-sized claw-footed tub among the usual sink and toilet. The floor and halfway up the walls were covered in tiny white and black octagon shaped tiles. Frosted round light bulbs lined the sides of the mirror over the sink. Whoever had decorated this place did so a long while ago.
When she looked into the mirror, she didn’t recognize the person staring back at her. Sure, her eyes were the same shape; her nose, lips, and hair color were all the same. But nothing else fit. The crests of her black wings rose several inches above her head and formed a heart shape at her back. They worked much like another pair of arms.
Zeroing in on the front of her dress, she searched for the stab hole. There was none. The dress was pristine; a fact she’d overlooked earlier. Sighing, she turned away from the mirror. She wouldn’t find answers staring at her reflection. Leaning into the tub, she turned on the spray. The frock dropped to the floor. No panties to worry about.
Amalya stepped over the lip of the tub.
Crystal clear and odorless. After an uneventful shower, thank God, she wrapped the white terry cloth towel around her torso. She left the dress on the floor and made a mental note to burn it later.
“Ow…shit.” She threw the towel down onto the tile and examined her stinging hip. The tattoo would go down as one of the dumbest decisions ever. She slapped her hip hoping to dull the bite. “Oh shit!”
Elliott barged through the door and stopped dead. “Oh, Amalya. Oh…God.” He clamped his lids shut.
“I’m fine…it’s just…” she panted.
“What is it?” the angel asked as he turned around.
Amalya held her hand over the tattoo. She took deep breaths. The pain ebbed. “I’ve got this tattoo and it started hurting again.”
“Again?” The angel turned his head toward her, keeping his eyes averted. “What’s it look like?”
“I don’t know. A circle with swirls surrounding triangles.”
“Shit. Those probably aren’t swirls. Are you kidding me? When did you get it?”
“For my sixteenth birthday. Why?” When she looked up he was facing her with his eyes centered at the hand on her hip. “Naked here.”
Bending down he said, “Let me see it.”
She peeled her hand off and looked over his head. Her hip no longer hurt. Warm fingers ran over the tattoo. The startling reaction of her body was worrisome. Heat flooded between her legs and her skin flushed.
Nooo. You’re Tainted. Ruined. That’s what this is about. You don’t want him.
“Yeah, those are sixes, not swirls,” he lifted his eyes and met hers. “Where did you get this design from?”
“It’s from a pendant I lost.”
“Do you still have it?”
“Didn’t you just hear what I said? I lost it.”
“Where did you get it?”
“My mother. She had a case of old costume jewelry she inherited when my great aunt passed away and it was in there. I thought it was pretty, so she gave the necklace to me. “Why, does it mean something?”
He blew out a breath. “It’s a sigil. I think it’s reacting with the Taint.”
“What is that?”
“Sigils are used to conjure demons, and in this case, Abaddon.”
“That is some wonderful news. Thanks for sharing.” She swallowed hard.
“You asked.” Elliott eyes were difficult to read. Black on black. She couldn’t tell if his pupils were dilated or if he even had any.
Sweat dribbled down between her breasts. “How do I get rid of it?”
“The symbol doesn’t really mean anything by itself. But the amulet you lost was probably Tainted. I’m assuming you wore it.”
“For years.” Her tongue became too large for her mouth. His steady gaze made her self-conscious.
“Where did you lose it?”
“Well actually, I don’t know. It was stolen, I think.”
Does he remember I’m naked?
Why didn’t she pick up the towel or use her wings for cover? She wanted him to see her? Shit, she was a fool. They’d just met, but there was something about him that drew her to him.
“Could I get a shirt or something to wear?”
The question snapped him out of wherever his mind had gone and he blushed.
After the angel left the bathroom, Amalya found an unopened package of toothbrushes and brushed her teeth. Finally. She was starting to feel almost human. With the exception of two large wings protruding from her back.
Fabric was lain on one side of the bed and on the other, Elliott. He faced away from her on his side. She picked up the…tunic and held it up. It was drape-necked front and back, and the bottom hem was dip dyed lilac. She wasn’t sure how to put it on.
He rolled over onto his back. “Huh?” Immediately he redirected his eyes toward the ceiling and teepeed his knees. His hand went to his crotch, tugging at the front of his jeans.
“How do I put this on?” She flipped the shirt over for the examination of both sides.
“It stretches,” he grumbled.
“Oh, it stretches, excuse moi.” She put it on the only way she could by stepping through the neck then pulling it up. Much better to have something on that wasn’t from the Devil. It fit well. Silly how something as simple as wearing clothing enhanced her mood.
She knelt on the bed next to him, her wet hair falling forward off her shoulders. “What’s your problem anyway? You’re so grumpy. It’s not just your wings, is it?”
“Why do you say that?” he asked, rolling onto his side facing away from her. She pulled at him, but he braced himself and remained in place. “I thought you wanted to sleep?” He yawned.
“Fine.” Swinging her legs out from under her, she flopped back on the mattress. “Ow.”
“Oh God, what now?”
“I hurt myself.”
She sat up.
The wingless angel wrenched his neck around. “Forgot about the wings, huh? Bummer.”
She still found him fascinating and sexy, even if his mood swings were tiresome. After all, he was a real live angel. She prepared her wings this time to lie down, easing into a comfortable position. Before long she heard Elliott’s breathing change. Listening to the cadence put her to sleep.
The smell of brewing coffee reminded Elliott he’d not eaten in quite some time. Angels and other spirits could go for long periods of time; days, months, or years without eating. But when hunger struck, the Carnival World Buffet at Rio Las Vegas wouldn’t be enough. Joelle was standing at the counter when Elliott entered the kitchen. He sat down on a stool at the table, the end of which had been pushed up against the wall. It could only seat three people.
“Want some eggs, E?” Joelle graveled.
“What did you do, tie one on last night?” Elliott asked, wondering why his oldest friend sounded like shit. Going by his disheveled chocolate colored hair and bloodshot eyes, he felt like shit too.
“Man, you get more action than anyone I know.”
“Yeah, and what about you, you get some?” Joelle smirked.
“What’d’ ya think?”
“You want some eggs?” Joelle asked again, setting a mug in front of the wingless angel.
Elliott nodded and said, “Thanks for the coffee.” Joelle got busy scrambling two dozen eggs, making a loaf of toast, and frying five pounds of potatoes. They enjoyed the solitude of the silence between them.
Joelle sat down at the loaded table. “Man, I should’ve made more. You think Amalya will be hungry when she gets up?”
Elliott laughed as he scanned the table. “You definitely need to make more.”
More quiet filled the room while they ate.
Joelle’s fork clanked on his plate.
Uh oh. He wants to talk.
“What?” Elliott asked pretending like he didn’t have any idea what his friend wanted to speak
Joelle sighed. “What’s going on? Why is she here? Deus should know about this.”
“He knows. Believe me.” Elliott set his utensils down. No surprise registered on Joelle’s face. “Why are you asking me when you already know the answer?”
“E, listen, she—shit…last night…last night you were jealous when I touched her. That isn’t like you at all, man.” He looked toward the ceiling as if he could find the correct phrasing within a water stain.
“I know,” Elliott muttered. He bit his fingernails, using one hand to hold the other.
“This isn’t good. The Taint was pure; I could taste the sweetness on her skin.”
“I know, all right!” Elliott jumped to his feet knocking the stool over. “Dammit. Sorry.” He took deep breaths.
“Calm down. Chill-lax.” Joelle stared at him, waiting for him to work it out.
Elliott righted the stool and sat back down. The nail biting resumed.
“Jealousy. Anger. When’s the last time you felt any of these emotions? It’s the Taint.”
Elliott didn’t look at his friend while he spoke. “Jo…Hell broke me. I lost everything. My wings, my spirit. Me. God dammit.” When he glanced up, his winged friend had tears in his eyes. An angel’s biggest fear was losing their wings. Therefore, Elliott understood the reason Joelle wept for him.
“I’m worried about you. What’s next?”
“Helping Amalya. This was the task given to me. I was to free her from Netherworld and she’s still in danger of returning there. This is the only thing I have right now. The only thing I have to live for. Once it’s over…” Elliott stared at the tabletop. “I’ll let you know if I need anything,” he said as way of changing the subject. Getting up from the table, he started to carry his dish to the sink. Joelle caught his arm on the way.
“Don’t do anything stupid. You’re still an angel. You have to know that. We stick together, no matter what.”
Amalya strode into the room. “Yum. What smells so good?”
Joelle gave Elliott a we-will-finish-this-conversation-later look then smiled at her. “Breakfast. Here…sit, there’s still some left.”
She took a plate and served herself before taking a seat. With a mouthful she said, “This is wonderful. Which one of you cooked?”
“Well, Joelle, thanks.”
“I’m taking off, duty calls.” Joelle went over to Elliott, who stood with his hip leaning against the counter and embraced him, undaunted by the hug not being returned. He murmured in his lost friend’s ear. “You are never without me.”
A lone tear ran down Elliott’s cheek.
Amalya sat gaping at them.
“What was that all about? And don’t tell me nothing.” Amalya said.
Elliott smiled crookedly. “Nothing.”
“Fine, whatever. What’s this about work to do now?” She played with the remaining eggs on her plate.
“Deus and Aba made a deal.”
“Yeah, you told me. What kind of deal?”
“You have to help someone at a crossroad in their life. A decision that will alter the course of their life forever. If the wrong choice is made—”
“In other words, if they mess up, I’m this piece of toast.” She held up a buttered triangle and took a bite. Amalya ate the rest of her breakfast in silence.
After she was done eating Elliott cleared her plate and the rest of the dishes, scraping the crumbs into the trash and tossing the plates into the sink.
Amalya winced. “Hey, I think you broke some.”
Ignoring her, he squeezed some dish soap into the sink and turned on the faucet. He used the hand sprayer to douse the plates then turned the water off.
“Where are we, anyway? Please don’t tell me this shit-hole is Heaven.”
“Detroit.” Elliott sat across from her.
“Figures,” she muttered. “So this person I have to help…”
“Deus and Aba each picked a soul to redeem. You get to choose the one you want to help though, between the two.” The angel went on to explain where she could find them and what she needed to do, which basically consisted of no assistance in how to go about the job.
“What happens if I fail?”
Elliott’s mute stare told what she wanted to know.