(A/N: Thanks to all my reviewers so far. I hope BlueRogueLinds enjoys this chapter!
It was finally time for their break, and Esther was glad for it. Two hours in an enclosed space with small children was more exhausting than fighting Methuselah.
"Hey, Esther! Let's go play volleyball!" Abel shouted as he raced for the door. "Come on!"
Esther frowned. How does he still have so much energy?
"What?" She followed him out the door, fully expecting him to jump out and surprise her.
It certainly was a surprise, though not the kind she had thought. Before her stood a makeshift beach volleyball net, complete with sand and palm trees. Abel held the ball in one ungloved hand, grinning.
"Has this always been here?" she asked suspiciously.
"Nope. Father Leon set it up this afternoon. Winner gets the other's snack!"
"What?" Esther gasped. Snacks were sacred. "That's not-"
Directly following this sentence fragment was the beach ball, which narrowly missed her rosary.
"That's it! Prepare to be defeated!" She kicked off her boots and served. Abel, who had been taken aback by her Petro-like battle cry, barely managed to return. Although his height was an advantage, he also had more of himself to move back and forth to defend his half of the court. She's good!
"Hey, Miss Esther! For such a short girl, you're pretty good!" He chuckled at her angry reaction. She got her revenge, however, by slamming the ball into the far left corner while he was laughing.
"You're not so bad yourself!" she said, serving again and narrowly missing Abel's head.
"And I'm not sorry!"
"I assure you, you will be in a moment!" Abel teased her as he returned the wayward ball. A sudden voice, however, made both him and Esther jump.
"He-ey, Father Four-eyes! You gettin' beat by a girl?"
"Father Leon! You made me miss a point!"
Esther stuck out her tongue impishly. "You wouldn't have gotten it anyway!"
"Hey, Esther's got a mean streak! You go, girl!" Leon laughed as he cheered her. Abel bared his teeth, which shut the Latino priest up a bit.
"Whoa, down, boy!" Leon shouted as he backed away. "He comes with his own flea collar," he added as an aside to Esther.
"I would prefer silence to your commentary," Abel shouted as he missed Esther's next serve.
"Oh no, go ahead, Father Leon," Esther said cheerfully, hitting the ball with a solid smack. "What's the score now?"
Abel grimaced. "I… haven't been keeping track."
"You better just give up now, Four-eyes. Miss Esther's got you beat."
"Are you kidding? Death before dishonor!"
But as the game wore on, death and dishonor were running a neck-and-neck race for Abel. His ribbon had long since fluttered to the ground, and Esther had scored every point since Leon left on "official business".
She seemed to be taking this quite seriously, even though he had intended it as a bit of a joke. He hoped she would spare him his snack.
When he realized that this was the last point, the only one separating him from a sugar-filled ocean cupcake, his Methuselah instincts kicked into gear. Although he didn't transform, he was able to see the ball coming as though it was floating through water. In another marvel of slow-motion technology, he swung his arm smoothly. He had it.
And he missed it.
With an earth-shattering boom, the ball hit the linoleum floor. Esther danced around in victory while Abel, too, hit the floor.
"Yeah! Go Esther, go Esther!"
"My cupcake…" he wailed.
"Think twice before betting on beating a girl, Abel," she said merrily as she skipped off to enjoy her just desserts.
Two cupcakes sat on two Styrofoam plates, with two forks and two cups of fruit punch. Both cupcakes were decorated with blue and white frosting, an unusually spiky red cocktail umbrella, and a tiny toy sword. And they were all Esther's.
Abel's silver hair trailed on the floor while his head rested on his folded arms. He didn't get up. He did, however, shoot the occasional puppy-eyes "have mercy" glance toward the red-haired nun.
"Nothing doing. You made the bet, you can live with the consequences."
"I don't think I can."
"I'm so hungry…"
"I don't know why. You nearly ate all of Hugue's supplies before we left."
"Hmmph. He should know better than to leave the frosting out."
"He put it in the church's industrial refrigerator, under lock and key, Father."
He couldn't come up with a good response.
"Mmm, this frosting is good." Esther smiled happily.
"I hope you enjoyed your cupcake. Oops, I mean cupcakes," Abel said when they came back into their classroom for the next class.
"Oh Abel, it was just a snack. Really, get over it."
"Miss Esther, snacks are a very important food group."
"Name the others, then."
Esther rolled her eyes and strode over to the table. It was, naturally, covered with sparkles, an alarming amount of Elmer's glue, and some unidentifiable substance. In Esther's opinion, they could do with some less messy crafts. Who came up with these things, anyway? Construction paper beach scenes she could do, but who really thought that 8-year-olds could handle the hot glue gun?
She addressed Abel. "While you're over there, Father, could you put up the Bible verses for tonight?"
"…Certainly, Miss Two-Cupcakes Esther," he replied, taking the workbook from her hand.
"Get. Over. It." Esther shook her head in irritation. For the love of God, it was just a cupcake.
They worked in silence for a while, with Abel pausing occasionally to see what he had written. Esther found this curious, but chalked it up to his usual silliness. Eventually, though, the pitter-patter of children's feet could be heard in the linoleum-covered hallway, and she turned to greet them.
"Hi, guys! Are you ready for tonight's craft?" She braced herself, and not without reason. Fifteen dolphin-range voices squealed, "YEAH!!"
"All right… if everyone can just find a seat… no, Jesse, it doesn't have to be the one you had yesterday… the tree is not a seat, Nicole…" She scooped another girl out the pool and sat her in a chair.
"Let's get started, then, OK?"
While she laid out the construction paper and safety scissors, Radu stumbled gracefully into the room and collapsed over a chair. His clothes were slightly frayed at the ends, and seemed to be smoking.
"Hey, it's Mr. Barvon! Where've you been, Mr. Barvon?" The kids scurried out of their seats and huddled around him, poking his face and lifting his eyelids to determine his state of consciousness.
Abel dotted his last 'i' and crossed the room with a snicker and backward glance. Esther, too, looked at the Rosenkreuz Orden member with some concern.
"Are you… all right?" she asked.
Radu mumbled something, then reached for a lighter and cigarette. After a few drags, he exhaled and muttered, "Death would be far preferable to this hell." Within a few seconds, one could hear a murmured, "I'm going to kill that puppetmaster."
The kids looked at each other in confusion, and Esther tried to regain control.
"O-kay… um, you'll see I've given you some blue paper…"
All in all, things went relatively (keyword: relatively) well as far as the craft. Nobody ingested too much Elmer's, major burns were avoided, and the kids seemed pleased with their paper sailboats. However, when it came time to review the Bible lesson for the day, Esther realized just what had put Abel in such a good mood.
"All right, guys, repeat after me. 'Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will not walk in the street; give me an undivided pie, that I may feast in your name.' What the… Abel, this isn't right!"
But the goofy silver-haired priest sat in the back laughing maniacally.
"I thought you would notice! Oh, Miss Esther, you're so funny."
She snorted. "Absolutely hilarious. Abel, do you have no respect at all?"
He thought for a moment. "What happens if I say no?"
"Grrr…" How did she end up with him, again? And when would Father Tres return? And what, really, was the meaning of life? Esther shook her head to clear her thoughts. "Anyway, guys, it should be…"
As they left that evening, weary and worn, they passed Leon chatting with a rather young-looking woman in the parking lot. Three preschoolers had formed a circle around him, tugging on his robes and playing with his boots. Tired as they were, Esther and Abel caught only traces of the conversation.
"… in Rome, or where?" Leon asked.
"…you like Chinese?"
Esther gritted her teeth. Father Leon was not only a priest, he was the biggest Casanova she'd ever met.