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       The Saint, p.19

         Part #5 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz
 

  we’d have more than enough time to talk.”

  “I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”

  Søren sighed and sat back on the bench seat. He turned his head and stared at the frozen city that surrounded them.

  “What you saw tonight—” he began.

  “Stop,” she said. “I told you I’d be pissed if you ever talked to me like I was a child. If you’re going to pull that ‘ignore the man behind the curtain’ bullshit, let me out of the car right now.”

  “I would never speak to you like a child. Even when you’re acting like one.”

  Eleanor couldn’t meet his eyes when she asked the question she didn’t want to ask.

  “Did you have sex with her?”

  “Did you have sex with Lachlan?”

  “That’s none of your business. I’m not your daughter, and I’m not your girlfriend.”

  “But it’s your concern what I did tonight?”

  “You’re a priest. You have vows—”

  “Vows you’ve been trying to get me to break with you for months.”

  “That’s different.”

  “How so?”

  “Because it’s me,” she said, anguished. “Because you promised.”

  Tears ran down her face, tears of jealousy and shame and fury.

  She wanted to argue with him, but couldn’t. So instead she pulled off his coat, threw it at him and curled up in the seat, her arms around her legs for warmth. Søren sighed as he folded his coat and placed it on the seat next to him.

  They left the city and she recognized they were on the road back to Wakefield. She wanted to ask him why they were in a Rolls-Royce, who was driving, what would happen to his Ducati back at that house and a million other questions. But instead she punished him with her silence. Half an hour passed without them saying a word to each other. She could tell he waited for her to speak. Fine. He could wait all damn night if he wanted. She wasn’t going to say another word to him.

  Søren reached out and took her hand again. She felt her resolve to hate him melting.

  “Little One, I didn’t have sex with her,” he said softly. “And you have a very large bite mark on your neck. If he hurt you in a way you didn’t like, I need you to tell me.”

  “No,” she whispered and met his eyes for one second. “I liked it.”

  “I see,” he said and she thought she heard something strange his voice. Something like pain.

  “Jealous?” she asked.

  “Yes.”

  She hadn’t expected that answer and her astonishment must have shown.

  “Don’t look so surprised,” Søren said. “I wish I could give you everything you wanted. But even a good gift is a bad gift if given at the wrong time.”

  “What does that even mean?”

  “It means one wouldn’t buy a new car for an eight-year-old.”

  “Nice,” she said, and nodded. “Now I’m an eight-year-old. What’s the car? Sex with you? You’re saying I’m too young to drive your ride?”

  “Age is only a number. Maturity—or a striking lack thereof—is your issue,” Søren added, seemingly oblivious to how much his words hurt her. “You’re not ready to have an adult relationship. No amount of wishing on either of our parts will make it so. And I care about you too much to take you anywhere you’re not yet ready to go.”

  “Do you have any idea how condescending that sounds? I want you. You promised—”

  “I will not fuck a teenage girl in my congregation, Eleanor.”

  Eleanor gaped at him.

  “Did you say fuck? You never swear.”

  “I needed your attention. I’m pleased to see I have it now.”

  “You were supposed to answer my questions tonight,” she finally said.

  “Do you have your list?”

  “Never leave home without it,” she said, and pulled the folded sheet of paper from her back pocket.

  Søren tilted the list toward the light. As he read, she heard nothing but the sound of her own breathing.

  “We need to work on your question-asking skills,” Søren finally said.

  “What do you mean?”

  “You’re hamstringing yourself with some of the wording. Never ask a yes or no question when you can asked an open-ended one. Your question ‘why will your friend help me?’ is a good question—it will lead to a long answer. Your question ‘are you a virgin?’ can be answered with a simple yes or no. I’m assuming you want a more thorough answer than that.”

  “What should I ask?”

  “You could ask ‘when was the last time you had sex?’ which would reveal not only whether or not I’ve had it, but also when the last occasion of it took place. A far better question than that would be ‘what is your sexual history?’ A bit clinical, but it would do the trick.”

  “I can rewrite my list.”

  “Too late. It’s in my hands now. Did you water the stick today?”

  “No. I was going to do it when I got home.”

  “Look at your watch.”

  She pulled back her sleeve. It was 12:07 a.m. She’d missed the last day of watering.

  “Fuck,” she breathed, and buried her head in her arms.

  “I didn’t want to do this, Eleanor. I never wanted to do this. Not like this anyway. But perhaps the Bible was right in this instance—spare the rod, spoil the child.”

  She looked up at him with tears in her eyes.

  “You going to hit me?”

  “Not tonight,” he said simply. “The night we made our little bargain, I told you there was nothing I wouldn’t do to protect you. I meant it. Which is why you’ll have to forgive me doing this now.”

  “Doing what?”

  “Raro solus, nunquam duo, semper tres.” Søren sounded as if he were quoting something.

  “What does that mean?”

  “It’s an old Jesuit rule they beat into us. Figuratively, of course. It means ‘rarely alone, never two, always three.’ The Jesuits have rules against what they call particular friendships. In seminary we were to talk in groups of three or more. It’s considered dangerous to be alone with another person, even another priest.”

  “Why? They thought you’d start having crazy gay sex the minute you were alone together?”

  “Yes.”

  “Did you?”

  “No. Although I was propositioned more than once.”

  “Color me surprised.”

  “But still, I thought it a pointless rule. I understand it now. You and I have a particular friendship. And it has to end.”

  “End?” Her voice broke on the word.

  “I told you if you watered that stick every day for six months, I’d answer your questions. You failed in this task. You will not be rewarded. I told you that you had to obey me forever, and I would give you everything. You disobeyed me and went to your father and now you’re suffering the consequences. For the foreseeable future, Diane will monitor your community service. This particular friendship of ours will cease until that day comes that I’m certain you are mature enough to be in an adult relationship. And by adult I do not mean sexual. I mean a relationship between equal partners.”

  “What do you mean? We can’t be friends anymore?”

  “Unfortunately, yes, that is what I mean. Of course, I’ll still be your priest. And if and when you need a priest, I’ll be here for you, but only in that capacity. Go, Eleanor. Go be a normal teenager for a year or two. Go grow up.”

  “A year or two?” It sounded like the worst prison sentence imaginable. No more long talks in the choir loft? No more help with her homework? No more cocoa when she was fighting with her math homework?

  “I’m your priest, not your babysitter.”

  Eleanor only looked at him. Even in the faint light of a passing streetlamp, she could see how hard his eyes had turned. His face was as cold and stony as granite. All affection, all concern, all mercy had drained from his expression.

  “You’re a cold bastard,” she said, refusing to let
another tear fall. “You know that, right?”

  “I do. And it is for the best you know it now, as well.”

  The Rolls-Royce pulled up at the end of her street, far enough away her mother wouldn’t see where she’d come from, close enough she’d only have to be in the cold a minute or two.

  She wanted to say something more to him, wanted to beg him to change his mind, wanted to tell him how much she hated him. Instead she simply opened the door.

  “Eleanor,” Søren said before she left the car.

  She looked at him and saw the faintest look of anguish in his eyes.

  “What?”

  “This will hurt me more than it hurts you.”

  “Good.”

  She left him alone in the back of the Rolls.

  As quietly as she could, she took the spare key from under the mat and unlocked the back door. She locked the door behind her and started when she heard a voice in the dark.

  “Do I even want to know where you’ve been?” her mother asked.

  Eleanor slowly turned to face her mother, who flipped on the kitchen light. Once more Eleanor was bathed in the fluorescent lights of an interrogation.

  “I’m sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to stay out so late.”

  Her mother stood in the doorway wearing her dingy white bathroom and slippers. Disappointment lined her mouth.

  “That’s not an answer.”

  Eleanor weighed her words and decided to try the truth, at least half of the truth.

  “Dad called. He said he was about to get sentenced. This might be my last chance to see him.”

  “You went to see your father? Oh, Elle.”

  “Yeah, Mom. I’m sorry. I missed him. But it was stupid. He didn’t want to see me. He wanted me to lie for him. I ran out and left my coat behind.”

  “I could have believed that once. But this doesn’t really help your case.”

  She pointed to the side of Eleanor’s neck, where Lachlan had bitten her earlier. She must have a hickey the size of Delaware from how hard he’d bitten and kissed her.

  Fuck.

  “Mom, nothing happened. I swear I didn’t—”

  “I don’t care.” Her mother raised her hand. “I don’t care anymore. I told you the night you got arrested that if you pulled something like that again I was done with you. Now I come home from work and you’re gone. No note. Nothing. I call Jordan’s and you’re not there. School. Church. Gone.”

  “I got lost in the city. It took me a while to figure out how to get home.”

  “I don’t know why you came home. You obviously can’t stand it here. Not if you’re running off to see your father, whom I forbade you from having any contact with.”

  “He said I might not see him again for years.”

  “That’s a bad thing?”

  “I thought it was. Now I know … I never want to see him again. I’m sorry. Nothing happened—”

  “Save it. No matter how much I care you go off and you do whatever you want with whomever you want anyway. So I’m going to stop caring. I’m not even going to punish you. That’s how little I care right now.”

  “No, Mom, don’t be like that. Please don’t …” Tears burst from her eyes. “Don’t give up on me, too.”

  “Too? Who else is giving up on you?”

  “I did something stupid, and now Father Stearns isn’t even going to monitor my community service anymore.”

  “Then he’s smart. You’d run right over him and his feelings like you do with everyone else who tries to care about you and help you.”

  “Mom …” Eleanor took a step forward but her mother stepped back and away from her.

  Her mother stared straight into her eyes.

  “When you were little, you always called me Momma. And you smiled when you said it. Now it’s Mom. And you never smile at me.”

  “Please …” Eleanor didn’t even know what she was begging for.

  “Go to bed,” her mother said, sounding tired. “Or not. Do whatever you want. You will anyway.”

  Her mother turned her back on Eleanor and flipped the light off as if Eleanor weren’t still standing there in the middle of the kitchen.

  She merely stood there in shock and sorrow, not sure what to do. She’d lost her priest, her father and her mother all in the same night. Who did she even have left? Anyone? Anything?

  In the dark she found her way to her bed and without taking her clothes off, she slid under her covers. She pulled the blanket up to her chin and closed her eyes.

  “Are You up there?” she whispered to God and waited, hoping, praying that someone somewhere was out there who hadn’t given up on her.

  But God didn’t answer.

  16

  Nora

  “WHAT VINTAGE OF TEAR IS THIS?” NICO ASKED, touching her wet face. “A 1993? Or something more recent?”

  Nora smiled shyly at him.

  “You’re the vintner. What do you think?”

  Nico brought his wet fingertip to his mouth and licked it.

  “Whatever vintage this is, I can taste that it was a hard year.”

  “It was a hard year,” she agreed. “Like this week. A lot of second-guessing myself, wondering if I could have prevented it. A lot of begging God to undo what happened. Even now I feel that same awful desperation—that, ‘God, I would give anything, trade anything, to feel something other than this pain.’”

  She closed her eyes and breathed deep again. God help her, she would do anything to not have to spread those ashes tomorrow.

  “But,” she continued, coming back to the present, “even that night alone in my bed, I knew I’d brought it on myself. And maybe knowing that was the one sign of hope for me.”

  “How long did he punish you for seeing your father?” Nico asked.

  “A long time.” Nora sat up while Nico rolled onto his back. She still had her gown on but Nico lay naked in bed, the sheets pulled up to his hips, his chest bare and inviting. “When you’re a teenager, every day without getting what you want feels like an eternity. Your heart’s under a magnifying glass at that age—everything is blown out of proportion.”

  “How long before you and he spoke after that night?”

  Nora cast her mind to that awful time. She remembered it as a particularly dark, cold and snowy winter. Streets turned gray with slush and treacherous with ice. But there, in her box of black memories, lay one shining star.

  “Christmas,” she said. “A few weeks later I went to midnight Mass, and Søren and I declared a Christmas truce for an hour. I think my mother had told him my father had been sentenced—fifteen years hard time. He knew I needed something to help me get through it. We talked. He gave me a Christmas gift.”

 
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